When you think of the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, which celebrates its 14th edition this weekend at the Rockville Hilton, Paul Carr wants you to think “inclusivity.” That’s why for this year’s edition, he chose the slogan “All shades, all hues.”
“I came to jazz through Grover Washington, Jr.,” the veteran D.C.-area saxophonist and educator said in an interview this week. “I know people might think of me as this hard traditionalist – and that’s my love, acoustic straight-ahead jazz – but I came to jazz by listening to Grover Washington, Jr. We’re trying to include as many people as possible because we’ve lost a lot of people during the pandemic, and that goes for educationally as well as fans and patrons.” That goes for the performers, too.
The inclusion of trumpeter Randy Brecker, whose jazz credentials range from the fusion he made with his brother Michael in the Brecker Brothers, to stints with Art Blakey, Horace Silver and Idris Muhammad, serves as a prime example of this “all shades, all hues” mentality. Brecker “has shaped the sounds of jazz, soul, R&B and even rock to a certain extent,” Carr said. “I wanted to book artists that have that varied type of background, and the flexibility to play all these types of music inspired by jazz.” On the rock side, Brecker has credits across the field with Lou Reed, Ringo Starr and Bruce Springsteen (listen to his trumpet work on “Meeting Across The River”).
That’s also why Carr invited the smooth-jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum to the proceedings for a couple of performances, including the annual musicians’ summit, where three masters on the same instrument play together in a display of solidarity, comparison and contrast. Carr and Whalum – who met while students at Texas Southern University – will be joined by Walter Smith III, a Texas tenor titan in his own right, for a summit of supreme swing Saturday night.
The festival runs from this Friday afternoon, Feb. 17, into the wee hours of Sunday night. As usual, both Saturday and Sunday are packed with a range of performers — from international stars to local stalwarts to various collegiate and high school-level big bands.
If you go, here are a few performances we recommend you not miss over the three-day marathon. (You can also see the full schedule and buy tickets at the festival’s website.) Tickets are available for the full festival, or for individual events.
Julieta Eugenio Trio
Ronnie Wells Main Stage, Friday, 7 p.m.
Julieta Eugenio is one of the most exciting exponents of New York’s hard-swinging contemporary scene. A winner of the DC Jazz Festival’s “Jazz Prix” competition in 2022, she returns to D.C. with a chordless trio with a sound that recalls other stripped-down sax trios, such as Sonny Rollins’, Walter Smith III’s and Lee Konitz’s. Eugenio will likely bring tunes from her debut album, Jump, out last March via Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf label.
Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival’s tribute to Roy Hargrove
Ronnie Wells Main Stage, Friday, 7 p.m.
While departed trumpeter Roy Hargrove may not have been from D.C., his impact has been substantial on the city and its musicians. Many learned from him in jam sessions over the years and many others joined his various bands. Some of his best accompanists – alto saxophonist Bruce Williams, baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall, pianist Marc Cary, bassist Ameen Saleem and drummer Quincy Phillips – join with young virtuous Giveton Gelin to pay tribute to Hargrove.
Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra
Ronnie Wells Main Stage, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Trumpeter Thad Wilson has long been a cornerstone of the D.C. jazz scene. He plays trumpet and flugelhorn in a highly lyrical, almost romantic style. He’s been working with a rotating cast in his orchestra for 25 years but it swings and hits hard no matter who is in it. With residencies at the One Step Down, Bohemian Caverns, Twins and, most recently, Blues Alley, the orchestra has long been a platform for D.C. jazz elders and young guns alike to meet and play in the tradition.
Chelsey Green and the Green Project
Oval Stage, Saturday, 7 p.m.
You may have caught Chelsey Green and her strings-based group, the Green Project, backing the Wu-Tang Clan during their appearance at NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert. With the Green Project, this violinist fuses myriad styles, from funk to smooth jazz to classical.
Texas Tenor Titans featuring Kirk Whalum, Walter Smith III & Paul Carr
Ronnie Wells Main Stage, Saturday, 10 p.m.
The annual meeting of the minds at this year’s festival is sure to be a swinging affair. Walter Smith III, a prominent face of the contemporary post-bop jazz and saxophone world, smooth saxophonist Kirk Whalum and MAJF organizer Paul Carr – all products of the Texas jazz higher education system – perform together.
Fran Vielma Jazz Orchestra
Ronnie Wells Main Stage, Sunday, 4 p.m.
Lately, Venezuelan percussionist and arranger Fran Vielma, an instructor at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, has been playing every month at Mr. Henry’s with his large ensemble, gathering some of the best players from the District and Charm City scenes to dig into his serious arrangements. At the festival he will present a program with a focus on music by Latin American composers.
Samuel Prather’s Groove Orchestra
Oval Stage, Sunday, 7 p.m.
Samuel Prather is a human jukebox — a man of 1,000 riffs, grooves and tunes. Put in a request and his ensemble, the Groove Orchestra, will lay into seemingly any piece with mellifluous horn melodies, driving funk guitar and pulsating rhythms.
Scat Summit featuring Sharon Clark, Christie Dashiell & Ashley Pezzotti
Ronnie Wells Main Stage, Sunday, 7 p.m.
Sharón Clark is a singer with remarkable range, taking audiences on a journey with selections that range from Great American Songbook fare to Kansas City blues to gospel hymns. Christie Dashiell is a prime D.C. jazz vocalist of the younger generation, coming from a family full of DMV musicians. The 23-year-old rising NYC-based vocalist Ashley Pezzotti will join these two fixtures of the D.C. scene for a summit devoted to the art of scat singing.
Davey Yarborough Ensemble feat. Esther Williams
Club Stage, Sunday, 9 p.m.
Davey Yarborough, the standout saxophonist and longtime jazz director at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, leads a performance of fellow D.C. jazz veterans. The group will include vocalist Esther Williams, his wife.