Jazz Lovers Prepare for Annual Musical Extravaganza

Black Violin
Black Violin (Courtesy of Lisa Leone)

The DC JazzFest has returned to the District with its annual homage to jazz greats with a lineup of musicians and singers representing the best in the musical genre that has given us geniuses like Coltrane, Mingus, Monk, Parker and Abbey Lincoln.

More than 20 neighborhood venues will showcase performances from June 9 through June 18 that will spotlight the District as a vibrant cultural capital including the always anticipated “Jazz in the ‘Hoods,” a week-long event sponsored by a host of partners including Events DC that introduces a mix of D.C. resident artists and District-based musicians in venues not otherwise served by live jazz performances. Artists include Gregory Porter, Pat Metheny, Kenny Garrett, Ron Carter and Lalah Hathaway and Black Violin.

Here’s what a few of the festival’s directors had to say about this year’s lineup.

“This remarkable lineup exemplifies the richness and soulfulness of the genre, boasting a plethora of brilliant vocalists and a bevy of strong strings as well,” said DC JazzFest Artistic Director Willard Jenkins. “We also continue our international collaborations and may have the largest number of women performing as band leaders and band members.”

“This year, it’s all about discovering the unexpected,” added DC Jazz Festival Executive Director Sunny Sumter. “Expect jazz’s best vocalists, masterclass string instrumentalists and jazz musicians from all over the world taking over the District for 10 days of incredible jazz.”

One group whose roots can be traced to very humble beginnings in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Black Violin, illustrate what can happen when Black youth receive exposure to the arts.

Wilner Baptiste (Wil B.), half of the dynamic duo of classically trained string instrumentalists known as Black Violin, along with Kevin Sylvester (Kev Marcus), will take to the stage on Sunday, June 11 playing a variety of music that mingles hip-hop, classical and jazz in a style that has garnered them a bevy of awards and a burgeoning fan base.

Both grew up in South Florida, attended the same high school and began playing the violin and viola in a community where few Black males received exposure to classical music. Black Violin clinched the “Showtime at the Apollo” 2005 legend title which represented their big break. From there their career took off at meteoric proportions.

“We’ve been at this for 15 years and what matters is the connection with our audiences – something that’s close to a spiritual linkage and which is more than just playing music,” said Wil B. “What’s really special to me is seeing all kinds of people coming to hear us play – people who normally would not all be in the same room at the same time. It’s the music that brings them together.”

He says that during their show, fans can expect a mixture of classical, hip-hop and the huge influence of jazz that has become their trademark.

“Naturally, we have a segment in the show where we ‘freestyle,’ often referred to as improvisation in the jazz world, and we have a lot of fun. We realize that times have changed and many youths no longer get the exposure to jazz, classical music and other genres that we did when we were in school. So, we take it as our mission to introduce these art forms to children of color everywhere we go.”

“Jazz music is like sitting down and reading a book. You have to listen to it and absorb it. When I was child growing up in the Caribbean, bands would routinely pass by our home and I fell in love with the sound. I think those in the jazz world can do so much more to educate young people. In fact, we must, if we want to revitalize the art form.”

“Do they know that the roots of jazz come from the blues? Do they know the beauty of the blues? I’m convinced that once we educate youth and expose them to this tremendous art form, they will naturally gravitate to it. They won’t be able to deny it. People feel our authenticity when we’re on stage. They recognize that what we’re doing is creating something that’s organic. And it’s still true: music is the universal language,” Wil B. said.

For more about Black Violin, go to www.blackviolin.net. For JazzFest tickets or additional information, visit dcjazzfest.org.

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