The DC Jazz Festival, in its eighth consecutive year, was bigger and better in many ways this year, extending its reach to locations across the city. A new program component of the event, which ran from June 1-10 including two weekends, was the East River JazzFest, which presented Fred Foss at the Congress Heights Senior Wellness Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in Southeast, among numerous other performances at various venues.
"I've played with these guys for 25 years," said Foss, a master saxophonist who said he'd brought along a group of buddies. Among them were Wade Beach on piano, bass player Herman Burney and drummer Harold Summey.
The group opened with a robust jazz standard, "Invitation." Afterward, Foss introduced saxophonist Elijah Balbed. "He's been going around town telling people he's my student ... man," Foss said of Balbed."This cat plays things I never dreamed of playing ... it's a generational thing ... each generation has its own thing ..."
As Balbed joined Foss in a couple more tunes, the two tenors dueled, traded riffs and harmonized. Summey was superlative on drums and Burney was the groove master on bass.
The Hamilton in downtown D.C. served as the backdrop for the popular festival, which was brought to town by executive producer Charlie Fishman and executive director Sunny Sumter.
In addition to The Hamilton in downtown D.C., other performance venues included various clubs and restaurants.
Youth at The Hamilton
One of the several sold-out performances at The Hamilton showcased the talents of a Kush Abadey, 21, who parlayed the wisdom of learning from his dad, percussion maestro Nasar Abadey, and his schooling at places like the Berklee College of Music. He played a superb set of music on the drums behind vocalist Akua Allrich.
Bandmates Kris Funn on bass, Herb Scott on saxophones and Janelle Gill on piano, helped Allrich deliver a fine opening set on the festival's first night at The Hamilton. Allrich, with her rich, wide-ranging voice, sang "Afro Blue" and "I Wish You Love," her own elegant original "Wishful Thinking," and other tunes. She wowed the audience with a gut-bucket, blues-shouting delivery of "Sinner Man."
"This is nice," said Abadey afterward, looking around at the large music hall. "This is my first time playing here."
After Abadey went on to relax and join his family, piano master Randy Weston took the stage with his trio, opening with his trademark, High Fly," and explaining how it came about back in the day in New York. "I was at 13th Street and 3rd Avenue hanging out with Bobby Timmons and Ray Brown ... and all these incredible musicians," said pianist Randy Weston. ". . . And, I wrote a piece called "High Fly."
He deftly played the melody -- explored and improvising -- by creating different rhythms and textures, with bassist Alex Blake and percussionist Neil Clarke.
"It is so important to recognize the royalty in our music ... in those who came before us, like Dizzy [Gillespie]... who would tell stories of the music from Ancient Africa," said Weston of his idol. "So I wrote this piece for Dizzy and Machito ... [called] African Sunrise."
Family Jazz and More
The festival's Jazz 'n Families event on Saturday featured the Herman Burney Quartet in the Music Room, where saxophonist Paul Carr who entertained a capacity crowd, highlighted the show with some hot riffs on standards.
Sunday night at Bohemian Caverns featured Reggie Pittman, with the New Jersey-based trumpeter leading a group that included veteran area bassist James King and guitarist Marvin Horne – both of whom sparkled on several numbers with drummer Harold Summey.
A Classic Night
Other festival highlights included a "Jazz Meets the Classics" concert at the Kennedy Center -- a star-studded gathering -- that opened with Paquito D'Rivera fronting a group that feastured trumpet virtuoso Michael Philip Mossman. D'Rivera, the consummate entertainer, kept the crowd in good spirits as he led the group through jazzy arrangements of compositions by Chopin, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. The set also featured sizzling sax work by D'Rivera, Mossman's searing trumpet and pianist Alex Brown's empathetic touch on piano.
Later, bassist Ron Carter and pianist Kenny Barron took the stage for a second set, along with vibraphonist Stefon Harris and drummer Lewis Nash. They earned several ovations for their classical treatment of tunes like, "Air," and Barron's "Phantoms," where Carter was exquisite in his timing and phrasing and timbre on bass. Barron also rendered a superb performance with his vintage melodic lyricism.
During the Philips Collection, the Michael Thomas Quintet rocked with some of his group's pulsating modern bebop, spiced by saxophonist Zach "Warm Daddy" Graddy and Thomas' always sterling work on trumpet.
Later that night, Cyrus Chestnut from Baltimore, demonstrated his talents as a top pianist with his Erroll Garner-like flourishes and dramatic ripples in a set where he was accompanied by John Lee on bass and Greg Hutchinson on drums.
Vocalist Roberta Gambarini glided on to the stage in a steamy, tight-fitting mini-dress, and closed out the evening with some original deliveries on tunes that included the show-stopping "Lush Life," with Chestnut's group providing fine support. In the end, Gambarini got down with the blues as well, on "No More Blues" -- all to the enjoyment of attendees at the sold-out festival.