The Kennedy Center Announces 2009-2010 Jazz Season

Melissa Walker image 0

Melissa Walker

The folks at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. have recently announced their upcoming 2009-2010 Jazz Season, which kicks off tomorrow night (Friday, September 25) with a performance by the Melissa Walker Group, including Christian McBride. That show is part of the Louis Armstrong Legacy Singers Series which also features Giacomo Gates (October 23, 2009), Mavis Staples (April 23, 2010) and Diane Schuur (June 8, 2010). Jazz programming at the Kennedy Center also includes several other notable series, such as the Platinum Series, with top-drawer headliners like Dianne Reeves (as part of Xmas program on December 18), Mark O’Connor (doing tribute to Grappelli & Reinhardt on January 16) and George Benson (April 11). The legacy of Ella Fitzgerald will be celebrated on January 24 in the Concert Hall with Ella, featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater, Al Jarreau, Janis Siegel and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. That show, like many in the season, will also be recorded for broadcast on NPR.

Other series include: Beyond Category Series (Overture Quartet, Bill Frisell Trio, Lee Konitz Quartet and Alison Brown Quartet), Art Tatum Piano Panorama (with Kenny Barron, McCoy Tyner and others) and the Discovery Series. Among the new artists showcased this season are Jon Irabagon, Jonathon Batiste and Maurice Brown. According to Kevin Struthers, the Director of Jazz Programming, both Brown and Irabagon are products of Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program, that’s now in its 13th year. Jazz Ahead is a jazz residency program for young and emerging artists and includes two weeks of intense training in performance, composing, and arranging with established jazz artists, led by residency director saxophonist Nathan Davis. The 2010 graduates will perform three free concerts on the Millennium Stage March 24-26, 2010.

The KC Jazz Club, profiled in a Tangents column in JT a few years back, is still going strong with over a dozen shows throughout the next 12 months with performers spanning a wide range of ages and styles-including artists such as Christian Scott, Michael Wolff and Toskiko Akiyoshi. The KC Jazz Club is a venue that is built and struck by the theater folks at Kennedy Center-a virtual staging of a jazz club.

There’s also a festival-the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival-that features women jazz artists, who are so often overlooked at other festivals and series. The festival was created in 1996 by the Artistic Director for Jazz at the Kennedy Center, Dr. Billy Taylor and this year the festival enters its 15th year coinciding with the 100th Anniversary of Williams’ birth. Taking place May 20-22, 2010, the fest will be hosted by Dee Dee Bridgewater. Among the special performances at the festival this year will be an appearance on Friday, May 21 by an all-star quintet of jazz women, including Geri Allen, Bridgewater, Terri Lyne Carrington, Grace Kelly and Esperanza Spalding.

Working behind the scenes with Taylor to build the season is Struthers, who confesses that, even with all the shows they’ve booked for 2009-2010, “We can never present all the new artists we’d like.” Struthers says that he’s already working on the 2010-2011 season. “Because of the space issues at the Kennedy Center, we have to work much farther in advance. The agents love it, because it allows them to anchor a tour. But it’s crazy to be talking in September 2009 about shows in 2011.” In case you’re wondering how they decide on which artists to book, Struthers admits that he gets buckets of mail (hmm, sounds familiar) and he says, “We try to have a balance of big-name artists with emerging artists.” He finds that talking to the artists themselves about other artists they’re listening to can be very effective. And he also knows he can rely on one artist in particular for qualitative input. “I’m very lucky to have Dr. Billy Taylor to advise and guide me in the process, ” adds Struthers.

When I asked Struthers about the one show he personally was most looking forward to, he confessed that it was Alison Brown, the noted Nashville-based banjoist who plays a hybrid of bluegrass and jazz. “I think that there’s plenty of similarity between jazz and bluegrass with the structure of the songs and soloing. And I’ll think the DC audience which is noted for its love of bluegrass will really enjoy it.” Brown performs at the KC Jazz Club on March 13, 2010 as part of the Beyond Category series.

For more information, you can visit the Kennedy Center site.