DC Jazz Festival: Postmortem
Looking back at my wrap-up of last year's festival, a number of the extraordinary circumstances that applied then still apply today. The economy tightened the budget last year, and did so even more this year. Last year, as this year, the fest sacrificed signature concerts (in 2010's case, at the National Mall). And last year I wrote that the festival's 11-day duration was its biggest problem; this year, the festival continued for 13 days.
This time, however, the DCJF's length seemed to fit—odd, since its ambitions were even further constrained. It was, however, cohesive in a way that 2009, even with its defined "Honoring New Orleans" theme, was not. The informal "world jazz" theme was no coincidence: Twenty-four countries were represented in one way or another across the fest, including, among others, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, Japan, Korea, India, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Curaçao, Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, and Israel. Producer Charlie Fishman noted with pride that the Berklee World Jazz Nonet (which played three gigs during the festival) featured "an Israeli and a Palestinian, negotiating through music." Some international perspective on the music, from the opening night's Etienne Charles to the closing night's "Latin Tinge of Jelly Roll Morton" program, was on display every night, and in various combinations. The most interesting, like Uri Gurvich and Michael Philip Mossman, managed to explore several nations' and ethnicities' music all under the jazz rubric—or, like Edmar Castañeda, brought something completely original and daring to the proceedings.
Not that there weren't problems. The co-opting of regularly scheduled local jazz gigs as "festival events" is still a bit of a stretch, though the DCJF should still be forgiven for budgetary reasons (and, as has been noted, the extra promotion offered by the fest swelled the crowds at the clubs, and it's damn hard to find fault with that.) The NEA Jazz Masters' tribute to James Moody is a sticking point; the festival was admittedly scrambling after Moody's unexpected illness and withdrawal, but the lack of his material was more conspicuous than the lack of Moody.
Still, by accident or design, Fishman seems to have found a new footing on this sixth time out for the DCJF. Last night after the closing concert, thinking as always in terms of his relationship with Dizzy Gillespie, Fishman evoked Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra, which he created to bring world cultures together in the name of jazz. "This was Dizzy's vision," he said, referring to the internationalist tact. "This is what we wanted to do, what we have done, and what we'll keep doing." That, going forward, will be the secret of the DC Jazz Festival's success. Excited though the staff is about a planned tribute to Chicago, they will continue to be at their best when they pay tribute to everywhere. In this international city, stocked with ambassadors official and un-, political and cultural, that order is not so tall... but it'll be fun to fill.