The Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival goes big for 15th anniversary

Arts organizations continue to feel squeezed by the limitations on post-pandemic arts funding, but Paul Carr still wants the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival to go big.

Carr, a preeminent saxophonist and educator in the D.C. area, created the MAJF back in 2010 as a successor to Ronnie Wells’ legendary East Coast Jazz Festival, which ran from 1991 until her passing in 2006.  Now entering its 15th year, the MAJF has become a signature winter jazz event in its own right for musicians and audiences across the Mid-Atlantic region.

This year’s festivities begin this Friday, Feb. 16, and carry on through the weekend; events will take place at the Rockville Hilton. Its big-name will include trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band, and vocalists Kurt Elling and Lisa Fischer.

Carr began the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival with a mission to honor the spirit of community that comes from live jazz, while also drawing from the deep educational commitments of both the erstwhile East Coast Jazz Festival and Carr’s own Jazz Academy of Music, an instructional program he has run for decades. Student performances have always been a big part of his festival, even as it’s always jam-packed with internationally known jazz headliners.

This year, the MAJF will bring together those pillars — education and outstanding performance — in a new way. Carr, noticing that even top collegiate ensembles were having trouble drawing crowds during their traditional Saturday- and Sunday-afternoon slots, decided to bring in some of the headliners and top players from the D.C. jazz scene to feature with those university bands.

“Over the years the matinees have been a little light as far as attendance,” Carr told CapitalBop. “So, what we decided to do was start having college ensembles – good college ensembles – play with pro special guests.”

So, on Saturday afternoon, the University of Memphis Jazz Ensemble will feature Delfeayo Marsalis, and the Boston College ensemble will pair up with vibraphonist Warren Wolf. Then the North Carolina Central University band will play with vibraphonist Joe Locke. 

“An annual trip would be good for them, and they get to play on the mainstage of a jazz festival with a named artist,” Carr said. “So, the educational component for that is huge.”

The night before, Marsalis will help kick off the festival by headlining the Main Stage with his Uptown Jazz Orchestra, which Carr called one of his favorite large-format jazz ensembles. Other highlights on Day 1 will include a smattering of locally based artists like Alison Crockett and Barry Moton as well as the 2023 DC Jazz Festival JazzPrix winners, the New Jazz Underground.  

Day 2 will also feature separate performances from saxophonist-educator Davey Yarbrough, vocalist Tacha Coleman Parr, and Carr’s own midsize group. Another sure highlight that day will be Orrin Evans’ big band, which will anchor the Main Stage. That potent group can slip through vibes and colors faster than a mood ring: swinging and steaming one moment before twisting up into angular post-bop in the next — and throwing in the occasional left-field cover of a pop tune, like David Bowie’s “Kooks.” Here, the group is joined by the soaring vocalist Lisa Fischer, who is still widely known for her role as Mick Jagger’s live duet partner on “Gimme Shelter” in the Rolling Stones’ live shows from 1995 to 2015. 

Sunday continues the festival’s pairing of seasoned pros with up-and-coming big band talent, showcasing steel pan player Victor Provost, trumpeter and Peabody Institue jazz director Sean Jones and saxophonist Tedd Baker playing with Carr’s Jazz Academy Orchestra, the West Virginia University band and the Temple University ensemble, respectively. Evans will also hop back on the ivories to jam with the University of Maryland Jazz Ensemble. 

Sunday’s bill also features woodwinds elder Charles Rahmat Woods leading a group, the fast-rising new stars Ebban and Epharim Dorsey with their own band, and more.

The whole affair wraps up when the standards-singing standard bearer Kurt Elling performs alongside the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Orchestra, an all-star cast of local musicians including Allyn Johnson, Michael Bowie, C.V. Dashiell, Reginald Cyntje, Thad Wilson, Donvonte McCoy, Tedd Baker and Antonio Parker.

The festival features four stages scattered throughout the Hilton’s ground-level floors: the Main Stage, the Atrium Stage, the Club Stage and the Oval. Tickets and passes can be purchased for individual “sessions” for each stage — that is, groupings of shows — as well as for each day of the event or the whole weekend. Tickets for sessions range from $25 to $85, daily passes from $155 to $185 and weekend passes from $155 to $1,495.



About Jackson Sinnenberg

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Jackson Sinnenberg is a broadcast journalist and a freelance writer. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, JazzTimes, Downbeat, NPR Music,, the Washington City Paper, On Tap/District Fray Magazine and the blog of Smithsonian Folkways Records. He began covering the city’s music scene for WGTB, Georgetown University’s radio station, where he was a show host, writer, and columnist. He graduated from Georgetown with a bachelor’s degree in American Musical Culture. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him at @sinnenbergmusic.

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