April 22, 2016

Kojo’s Best Kept Jazz Secret In Washington –Until Now

By Kojo Nnamdi

UDC student Krislynn Perry singing at the Calvin Jones Big Band Jazz Festival in 2006.

UDC student Krislynn Perry singing at the Calvin Jones Big Band Jazz Festival in 2006.

A few years ago, my then thirtysome-year-old son, who’s been practicing and playing jazz trumpet for what seems like forever, casually invited me to join him and a friend to catch some big band jazz at the University of the District of Columbia. This took me by surprise. Not the invitation, but the location. I knew UDC had a great stage, since I’d actually produced a play there back in the early 1990s (long story), but I couldn’t figure out what big band would be performing there.

Allyn Johnson conducting at the 2013 Calvin Jones Big Band Jazz Festival.

Allyn Johnson conducting at the 2013 Calvin Jones Big Band Jazz Festival. Photo by Andrew Elwell.

He casually informed me –he does everything casually, even strenuous bodybuilding– that for years UDC had been staging an annual Big Band Jazz Festival featuring big bands from Howard University, the University of Maryland, and UDC’s own big band. I was like, “For years? What do you mean, for years? I’ve been in this town longer than you’ve been alive and loving jazz even longer than that, so if this had been going on for years, I would have known about it!” He laughed, casually of course, and shrugged, which is what people do when they know what they’re talking about, and you don’t.

Suffice it to say that this year, the Big Band Jazz Festival will be celebrating its 30th anniversary, and I’ve been going for less than a decade, so it was Washington’s best kept secret –from me, anyway– for more than two decades. No more. I never could keep a secret anyway, and this festival has a hard core following of jazz lovers because it’s absolutely worth it. Watching these young people improvise on jazz standards and strut their stuff on newer compositions makes for an evening of delightful entertainment.

Jazz musician Calvin Jones, the namesake of UDC’s Big Band Jazz Festival. Photo by Leon Gurley.

I’m reminded of all this for two reasons. One is that our show on Thursday, April 21st was about sustaining jazz in Washington in the wake of the closure of the legendary Bohemian Cavern night club here and the many challenges facing jazz musicians and club owners in Washington. The second is that on that day, a package arrived at our studios informing me that the Calvin Jones Big Band Jazz Festival at UDC is scheduled for Monday, April 25th. The event is named in memory of Calvin Jones, who was the Director of UDC’s Jazz Studies Program.

We’ll be there.

Comments

comments powered by Disqus