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Duke Ellington Jazz Festival: Jazz on the Mall

McCoy Tyner

Those tired (but very true) clichés about jazz being a symbol of American freedom have probably never seen a more picturesque manifestation than “Jazz on the Mall,” the free all-day event that is the crown jewel of Washington, D.C.’s Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. Held at an amphitheatre a stone’s throw away from the Washington Monument, it’s perhaps the best-looking, best-sounding free event in a city teeming with subsidized cultural to-dos. (The festival also famously hosts an annual NEA Jazz Masters concert, though that event costs money to attend and doesn’t boast the world’s most famous monolith as scenery.)

Founded six years ago by former Dizzy Gillespie road manager Charles Fishman, the weeklong festival seems to serve two main functions: One, it draws city residents who need an official sanction such as a “jazz festival” to check out local artists and explore quasi-historic venues like Bohemian Caverns and Blues Alley; and two, with the annual Mall concert and Jazz Masters showcase, it culls famous players who might otherwise only stop in the District to play the Kennedy Center for exclusionary ticket prices.

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