DC Jazz Festival: Should We Get the Same Headliners Year After Year?
Every year, you hear some grumbling about one aspect of the DC Jazz Festival from the circle of local jazz snobs of which, for better or worse, I'm a member. The complaint? The festival's repetitive programming.
As regular festivalgoers surely have noticed, there's a small coterie of musicians who have headlined the festival over and over again during its short eight-year life span: Cyrus Chestnut, Roy Hargrove, Roberta Gambarini, Brass-a-Holics, and Antonio Hart. Each of these musicians is extremely high-caliber, among the best in their class, and worthy of being in the top tier at a major jazz festival. But the same musicians in the top tier, year in and year out? Nobody can be blamed for wanting the festival to shake the roster up a little, or even a lot. Some ennui would seem to be inevitable.
Except that it's apparently not inevitable. Word came last night that each of the above artists sold out their sets (in some cases, two sets) at The Hamilton this week.
We snobs can and should—and will—complain about the redundancy of the festival's bills. But in the end, these musicians keep coming back because they clearly fill a demand of D.C. audiences. They're audiences, we should add, that are almost certainly not comprised of jazz snobs. At least, they're not jazz snobs in the sense that they're hitting the local clubs and venues every weekend or making day trips to New York just for jazz; these are by and large folks who look forward every year to seeing Cyrus Chestnut or Roberta Gambarini again, and they're the ones putting money back into the festival's coffers.
Certainly this writer (among others) like to see a bit more variety in the festival's core headliners. But it seems to be a minority view. Judging from these sellouts, artistic director Paquito d'Rivera and producer Charlie Fishman won't be doing any serious shakeups anytime soon. And honestly, all things considered—why the hell should they?