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Jazz Festival Showcased Entertainment Across City

Steve Monroe | , Special to Informer r | 6/13/2012, 4:34 p.m.

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."

Royalty Remembered

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."