Looking back, part 3 | Musicians reflect on 2010

by Giovanni Russonello
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There’s no denying that it’s been an eventful year for the District’s jazz scene. Things are moving, churning, changing. Some of those changes have been broadly welcomed, while others may take some getting used to. The appearance of the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra and the increasingly jazz-oriented Black Fox Lounge in Dupont Circle cheered District jazzbos. And according to Washington City Paper jazz critic Michael J. West, this was the year that Bohemian Caverns became the “new king” of D.C. jazz clubs. The loss of U Street institution Café Nema, for example, pleased no one. Meanwhile, HR-57‘s move from 14th Street NW to H Street NE roiled some, but excited others. Dr. Billy Taylor‘s death this week saddened his fellow Washingtonians, but it also gave us a much-needed moment to reflect on his generous gifts to the world.

– Click here to read part one of our 2010 Looking Back series, on D.C.’s avant-garde music scene, or here for part two, on the top D.C. jazz albums of 2010  –

At CapitalBop, we believe strongly that everything comes back to the musicians – so we asked some of U Street’s top talent to tell us what they’ll remember most about 2010. Among the musicians who responded to our query, there was a startling consensus: This past year was something special. Read on for their testimonies.


The drive and dedication of the musicians in this town, something that has been consistently evolving and growing for years, revealed itself in 2010. A lot of achievements can be touted, such as the inception of the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra; a wealth of new albums released by local players; and the many great shows that I have had an opportunity to be a part of with artists like Butch Warren, Lee Konitz and Freddie Redd. And of course, all the great combo gigs happening on any given night have helped make the scene more accessible and fun.

“D.C. jazz fans are enthusiastic and supportive.”

I also think D.C. audiences have a lot to do with the recent successes. D.C. jazz fans are enthusiastic and supportive of many of the different projects on the scene. The BCJO, for example, is consistently drawing crowds who are there to listen and engage with the music. It’s really remarkable and definitely encouraging to see the increased value jazz has for audiences in the region. And as a musician, the most you can ask for is to play for people who want to hear your music and be able to connect with them on that level. Washington, D.C. has a rich jazz history and I look forward to its continued growth in 2011.


2010 seemed to be the year that jazz regained attention and respect in D.C., original music being the focus. There were new recordings by many musicians, like Rodney Richardson; the original music night at Utopia with Bobby Muncy; the first D.C. Jazz Loft concert; and the formation of the D.C. Jazz Composers Collective (still in its infancy).

“2010 seemed to be the year that jazz regained attention and respect in D.C.”

The emergence of the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, with Joe Herrera’s leadership, direction and real artistic vision, brought a new air to the jazz scene. CapitalBop launched their website, featuring the first calendar to ever be accurate, bringing jazz fans and musicians together. With a year this good, 2011 looks to be very promising!


It has undoubtedly been a great year for jazz in D.C. There are so many things happening right now that are making people aware that D.C. is a jazz city. Of course, I feel that what Omrao Brown has been doing at Bohemian Caverns is really great. He is reestablishing the Caves as a legit jazz venue by bringing in national acts as well as featuring local musicians at the club. Of course I have to mention the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra. This band, co-led by saxophonist Brad Linde and myself, has, I feel, helped establish jazz again on U Street on Monday nights. Seventeen of D.C.’s finest talents, young lions as well as established musicians on the scene, have been converging every Monday at the Caves for the past eight months.

“There are so many things happening right now that are making people aware that D.C. is a jazz city.”

I also feel the ownership that local musicians have taken in the D.C. jazz scene is really great. Saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed has reignited the Saturday night scene at Utopia with his varying, hard-swinging bands. Guitarist Rodney Richardson has become a serious contender in D.C., as well as on the East Coast, with his trio, which just released its first record, This Is the Rodney Richardson Trio.

I would be remiss not to mention the support us local musicians get from club owners. Venues like Twins Jazz, HR-57, Bossa Bistro, Bohemian Caverns, Tryst, 18th Street Lounge, etc., help keep music alive in this city. It’s also worth mentioning that 2010 saw the rise of D.C. jazz awareness through the help of bloggers like Maryam Balbed, Luke and Gio from CapitalBop, Mike West with the City Paper, Sriram Gopal with the DCist, etc. Articles like this are what I am talkin’ about!


2010 was a banner year for many great things in D.C. jazz. Personally, I thought nothing would excite me more than featuring Lee Konitz with my ensemble, but there was much more to come. A few highlights for me:

Bohemian Caverns poised itself to become the greatest jazz club the District has to offer. With adventurous programming that includes the top tier of local acts, national jazz artists and living legends, Bohemian Caverns is ranking with its New York City counterparts: the Village Vanguard, the Jazz Gallery, Dizzy’s and Smalls. The club also allowed for the creation of D.C.’s only resident big band, the new and very popular Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra (of which I am the co-leader), a 17-piece ensemble featuring some of the city’s top talent. Add all of that up and you get the club’s owner and manager, Omrao Brown, and his ambitious and exciting plan for jazz in D.C.

“With adventurous programming … Bohemian Caverns is ranking with its New York City counterparts.”

The D.C. jazz icon bassist Butch Warren participated in several performances that prove he is, and always has been, a master musician with an immense talent and creativity. Butch is playing and writing new music each day. In October, Butch performed at Blues Alley for the first time in nearly 40 years. The music, which he performed with my ensemble, was selected from his heyday at Blue Note Records; it included tunes by Monk, Gordon, Mobley, Clark and, most importantly, Butch himself. Butch played two beautiful sets, reading through the music and driving the nonet with his steady beat and melodic lines. This performance highlighted Butch’s musical imagination, wit and professionalism. He is moving forward and is now working brilliantly with pianist Freddie Redd.

This year also saw unprecedented support from the media. The new CapitalBop, along with Mike West and Sriram Gopal, has helped create a community for musicians to support each other, share thoughts and ideas, and celebrate this music.



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