H Street NE is ground zero for urban development in D.C. In only the past few years, the historic avenue has transformed from a forgotten corridor, home to liquor stores and carry-outs, to a main drag filled with chic restaurants and bars. The area’s new identity is sparking wide discussions on larger questions of urban development and gentrification. Inarguably, there’s a fresh vibrancy, and that has attracted new venues such as the popular jazz club HR-57, which relocated from 14th Street NW this year. This fall, the club will cease to be the only place to hear jazz regularly on H Street: The recently refurbished, iconic Atlas Theater is joining the fray.
On Sept. 14, the inaugural season of “Jazz at the Atlas” begins, a new series curated by saxophonist Brad Linde. “I want to highlight music that represents a larger picture of jazz than just straight-ahead,” he said. “Much of the programming this year comes from other styles including third-stream and free jazz.”
The season will showcase a mix of local and national artists, including contemporary stars Miguel Zenón and Matt Wilson, plus living legends Teddy Charles and Grachan Moncur III. Both Charles and Moncur represent some of the best in different approaches in the Music, Charles being a stalwart vibraphonist of so-called “Third Stream” – the genre fusing classical and jazz that was a sensation in the 1960s – and Moncur a pioneering trombonist in avant-garde jazz.
Both artists will surely draw crowds based on their name alone, but audience members who show up for the whole series are likely to hear something with which they’re not familiar. “I’d like everyone interested in written and improvised music to be in the audience. The programming reflects a wide variety of influences and styles, and I am hoping that people attend each event to get a bigger picture of what jazz music can be,” Linde said. “The series will appeal to those that enjoy bebop, big band, Latin jazz, free jazz, celebrated masters and emerging creative musicians.”
The series is an important bridge for communities both new and old along the H Street corridor. Atlas Executive Director Sam Sweet has noted this importance in his facilitation of the series. “The Atlas is the artistic heart of the H Street NE community. To that end, it needs to be a lively and vibrant performing arts venue that engages a wide audience,” he said. “On H Street NE, as a performing arts center, we are trying to curate the neighborhood identity as it changes, creating a bridge in the arts between the tradition and heritage of H Street NE and the new energy that is part of the revitalization of H Street NE through the arts. Jazz especially, I think, has an opportunity to go back to the tradition of an art form that came out of the African American community and bridge that to different new artists and new forms.”
Linde and the folks at Atlas already have some artists lined up for a spring season, and Linde says that planning even further ahead is underway – into 2013.
The inaugural series kicks off next month with the D.C. debut of saxophonist Will Vinson and his quartet. Here is a full schedule of Jazz at the Atlas’s first season:
- September 14 – Will Vinson Quartet
- September 28 – Tony Martucci Quintet
- October 5 – Teddy Charles Tentet
- October 19 – Greg Boyer Peloton
- November 9 – Miguel Zenon Quartet
- November 16 – Brian Settles & Central Union
- December 7 – Grachan Moncur III with the Brad Linde Ensemble
- December 21 – Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O
Giovanni Russonello contributed reporting.