NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath. Harold Summey, winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Preeminent saxophonist and Monk competition finalist Tim Warfield.
That’s just a smattering of the ferocious talent that’s set to play at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival next month. The rationale behind it all, explains Executive Director Paul Carr, is that the area encircling D.C. has enough talent to rival any other part of the country.
The weekend-long festival’s performers are almost exclusively from “the mid-Atlantic, because I think that we have some of the greatest talent right here in Washington, Philadelphia and surrounding areas,” Carr, a saxophonist and jazz educator, told CapitalBop.
From Feb. 18 to Feb. 21, a full-on jazz invasion will overtake the Hilton Hotel and Executive Meeting Center in Rockville, Md. Performers will include the tenor saxophonists Tim Warfield, Bootsie Barnes and Quamon Fowler, all wailing away in the so-called Saxophone Summit; trumpeter Randy Brecker; and Carr’s own D.C.-based quintet.
But the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, now in its second year, isn’t just about its vast entertainment value. It’s meant to draw in – and serve – young people, with master classes taught by star musicians and performances by high school ensembles. (Seven are currently signed up for the festival’s High School Jazz Band Competition, and Carr hopes more will enlist.)
Carr’s reasoning is simple: “If we don’t educate, then we’re not going to go forward.” And he’s got specific notions about just how things should move ahead.
“Our motto this year is ‘Standing up for real jazz,’” he said. All too often nowadays, Carr laments, “we have musicians that are very, very technically proficient, but they’re not so proficient in communicating with the audience. And that’s what jazz is about: It’s a social music and it’s about communicating with the audience.” A big part of that, he says, is swinging, and the music at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival is going to swing.
Harold Summey, the only drummer to ever win the Monk competition, will perform with his wife, vocalist Leslie Summey; Carr’s band; and the Saxophone Summit. He says providing contact between new musicians and experts is crucial. “For people who are learning to play – kids or even adults who are learning to play this music – it’s … just as important to see it performed as it is to practice it,” he told CapitalBop.
And with this being the highest-profile gathering of mid-Atlantic jazz talent it’s an important opportunity for more experienced players. “The musicians like me and some others could really use a venue like this to kind of be out there and have people see our talents and see some of the things we’ve been doing,” Summey said. “If for nothing else, it’s good for our local musicians.”
The festival operates under the umbrella of the Jazz Academy of Music, a non-profit that Carr founded in order to extend “the music education opportunities afforded him, as an inner city youth, to others,” according to its website.
Jazz Academy veteran Braxton Cook, now a 19-year-old sophomore at Georgetown University, will bring things full-circle next month, performing at the festival with the Aaron Seeber Quintet. Seeber, too, is a Jazz Academy expat. Cook, who now gigs regularly at Twins Jazz and was a silver medalist in the 2009 National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts Competition, says taking lessons and playing in ensembles at the academy were critical to his musical growth.
“It’s really great just to have a place where you can go and play jazz, try to be immersed amongst musicians your age that love the music. Learning jazz is pretty much like learning a foreign language,” he told CapitalBop, “and it’s pretty hard to pick up a language that you only get to hear 30 minutes a day in your jazz band classes at school.”
The Second Annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival takes place from Feb. 18 to Feb. 21, at the Hilton Hotel and Executive Meeting Center in Rockville, Md. Tickets can be purchased at the festival’s website. Check back at CapitalBop.com in the weeks ahead for more coverage leading up to the festival, and afterward for recaps.