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The Washington, D.C. Jazz Scene

Rundown of the local jazz scene in the nation's capital

Washington, D.C. is perhaps best known as the hometown of pianist and composer Duke Ellington. More than 40 years after his death, the D.C. jazz scene remains a prominent force on the East Coast.

A thriving U Street music scene was devastated by the riots of 1968 in which countless clubs, businesses, and restaurants were destroyed. With the establishment of Bohemian Caverns and Twins Jazz, the early ’90s saw a resurgence of jazz on U Street.

The Kennedy Center, located near the Lincoln Memorial, is committed to continuing a legacy of jazz in D.C. and, in recent years, has established the KC Jazz club. Under the guidance of the late Billy Taylor and now Jason Moran, jazz at the Kennedy Center has flourished. The legendary Blues Alley jazz and supper club continues to present a formidable array of local and national talent.

Most promising in the effort to maintain the scene is the emergence of educational programs which seek to foster and develop the area’s young talent. Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program is an annual two-week program for young composers and musicians that focuses on jazz history, composition and performance. Saxophonist Paul Carr established the Jazz Academy of Music in 2002—an organization which now runs a summer camp and two year-round big bands for teens, in addition to sponsoring the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. While lacking the recognition of East Coast rivals New York and Philadelphia, D.C.’s character, history, and commitment to the preservation of jazz continue to drive its celebrated scene forward.


Blues Alley
1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 337-4141

The quintessential D.C. jazz venue. Wide variety of music presented, ranging from R&B to modern jazz. Cover varies depending on artist.

Twins Jazz
1344 U St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 234-0072

Performances nightly, focus is on straight-ahead jazz. Ethiopian food, $10 cover for food/drink.

Jojo Restaurant & Bar
1518 U St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 319-9350

Local jazz performers six nights a week, with a DC jazz singers’ jam at Sunday brunch.

Madam’s Organ
2461 18th St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 667-5370

Blues bar and soul food restaurant. Blues, jazz, and R&B presented seven nights a week.

3701 Mount Vernon Ave.
Alexandria, VA
(703) 549-7500

Dinner theater-style music venue. Broad array of music including folk, bluegrass, country, pop, R&B, and smooth jazz.

9:30 Club
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 265-0930

One of the area’s premier nightclub and concert venues, predominantly featuring rock and pop acts, with occasional appearances by jazz artists. Past performances by the Bad Plus and MMW.

The Kennedy Center
2700 F St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 467-4600

Jazz presented frequently on Millennium Stage, main concert hall, and in KC Jazz Club. Past performers include Roy Haynes, James Moody, and Sonny Rollins.

Strathmore Hall
10701 Rockville Pike
North Bethesda, MD
(301) 581-5100

Host of jazz concerts and educational programs held at Strathmore concert hall annually. Past performances by McCoy Tyner, Dianne Reeves, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Terence Blanchard, and many others.

Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts
University of Maryland
College Park, MD
(Intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193)
(301) 405-2787

Concert hall at University of Maryland featuring jazz master classes and performances on a regular basis.

Festivals/Special Events

Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival
Rockville Hilton in Rockville, MD
Held in mid-February

Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival
The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC
Held in mid-May

DC Jazz Festival
Various venues around the city
Held in early June

Capital Jazz Festival
Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD
Held in early June

Rosslyn Jazz Festival
Gateway Park in Rosslyn, VA
Held in early September

Silver Spring Jazz Festival
Downtown Silver Spring, MD
Held in early September

Radio Stations/Shows

WPFW 89.3
“Jazz and Justice Radio”. Music all weekend long. On Weekdays, Jazz from 5 – 8 am, 1 – 3 pm, 4 – 6 pm, 8 – 10 pm and 11 pm – 5 am.

Online jazz radio station.

Education Programs

Maryland Summer Jazz
10701 Old Georgetown Rd.
Rockville, MD
Tuition: $544 per session

Adult-level jazz workshops, high school students also welcome. Faculty includes Jeff Antoniuk, John D’earth, Steve Herberman, James King, and others.

Jazz Academy of Music Camp

Sligo Middle School
1401 Dennis Ave.
Silver Spring, MD
Tuition: $565

3-week summer program for middle and high school students focusing on jazz history, improvisation and repertoire. Faculty includes Paul Carr, Pepe Gonzalez, Richard Seals and Alex Brown. Past guest artists have included Steve Wilson, Tim Warfield, Bobby Broom, and Branford Marsalis.

Jazz Academy of Music LAB

National 4H Youth Center
7100 Connecticut Ave.
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Tuition: From $850 to $1,200 depending on length of day, residency

3-day, 4-night residency for students in grades 6 – 12. Focus is on jazz improvisation. Faculty includes Paul Carr, Pepe Gonzalez, Richard Seals, and Alex Brown along with guest artists Andrew Gould and Brian Lynch.

Maryland Summer Jazz Consortium

Walt Whitman High School
7100 Whittier Blvd.
Bethesda, MD 20817
Tuition: $250 ($200 for early bird registrants)

Junior Jazz Consortium for students in grades 6-8. Senior Jazz Consortium for high school students. Faculty includes Mark Cook, Mike Kamuf, Gerry Kunkel, and John Previti.

American University
Department of Performing Arts, B.A. Jazz Studies
4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20016
(202) 885-1000

Information initially compiled by Eli Aleinikoff and Lee Mergner in June 2011.


Originally Published