The 14th Washington Women in Jazz Festival packs music, community and celebration into one overflowing weekend

Jazz has always tended to be an unfortunately dude-centric vocation. Although women often appeared prominently as instrumentalists in New Orleans during the music’s early years, and while there have been standouts in the decades since — like Alice Coltrane, Mary Lou Williams and Esperanza Spalding — too few women have achieved success as jazz bandleaders performing original music. Women musicians have always populated the genre, but their male contemporaries tended to keep an iron grip on industry gateways, and soak up too much shine.

There have been big changes in the past decade as young female instrumentalists, as well as singers and poets and other innovative vocalists, have started to play a more predominant role in the music. Look to Nubya Garcia, Lakecia Benjamin, Angel Bat Dawid, Kris Davis, Terri Lyne Carrington and Meshell Ndegeocello for a sign of how much women are grabbing ears and changing the music.

This is what D.C.-based pianist Amy K. Bormet sought to counteract back in 2011 when she launched the Washington Women in Jazz Festival, shortly after finishing an emerging artist residency at the Kennedy Center. “Other regional festivals didn’t include woman instrumentalists on their lineups,” Bormet told CapitalBop, “and I wanted to give us a place to be seen and network.”

Though past WWJFs have tended to fill the entire month of March with events citywide, this year’s festival is more tightly contained, filling out just one weekend with jam sessions, workshops, concerts and talks. Those events, from this Thursday through Sunday, will all be located at Pen Arts, in the Dupont Circle area, a historic building that is home of the National League of American Pen Women.

Bormet has been a longtime player in D.C.’s jazz community, even though she hasn’t been here without interruption. She first moved to the District from Oregon, at 16, and began attending the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. After graduation, she moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., to study piano at the University of Michigan, returning to D.C. to attend the graduate program in jazz at Howard University. She and her husband, guitarist Matt Dievendorf, moved to Los Angeles in 2013 before returning to D.C. yet again five years later.

But since 2011, Bormet never stopped presenting the WWJF each year. This spring marks 14 years since the first festival. It is also the second year of publication for The Turnaround, an accompanying magazine dedicated to publishing local femme and gender-expansive artists.

Lyla Maisto, a D.C.-based freelance writer and publisher of The Turnaround (also sometimes a CapitalBop contributor), was introduced to the festival by flutist Alex Hamburger, a close friend from high school and a staple on the DMV music scene. “I was actually a closeted trans woman at the time, and one of the reasons I was closeted was because a lot of the musical spaces I’d grown up in were so masculine and felt so hostile that I couldn’t ever really be an artist and express gender the way I wanted to,” Maisto, who described herself as a “lapsed” musician, said in an interview. “So when Alex brought me to this space, I was blown away.”

Maisto and Bormet first collaborated in 2019 when the former wrote a profile of the latter for this website. Maisto was working a “miserable” job at a law firm when she pitched a feature on the festival in search of more fulfilling work. Bormet liked the feature so much that, three years later, she reached out to Maisto with just that kind of opportunity.

“I liked the way she wrote and understood my philosophy and projects,” Bormet said. “I asked her if she would be interested in helping me put together the magazine, and I’m so glad I did because she is phenomenally talented, considerate, and dedicated to [The Turnaround] and our podcast.”

The magazine was launched in the fall of 2022, and features a diverse array of interviews, articles, essays and more. Maisto remembered that Bormet wanted The Turnaround to pay homage to the D.C. DIY zine culture of the 1980s and ‘90s, while also serving as a trade publication for local artists.

This year’s entry will include not just written content but also a podcast miniseries, supported by a grant from HumanitiesDC. All of the performers have articles in this year’s edition, like internationally recognized saxophonist Dr. Leigh Pilzer, whose latest record (under Bormet’s label Strange Woman Records) will be featured in the issue.

The Turnaround and the festival are definitely connected,” Maisto told CapitalBop. “The common thread is Amy but also the community that writes for it.”

 “It’s all connected in my women-in-jazz hype machine,” Bormet said jokingly.

“The vision has evolved over time as far as what we want to do with this new platform, and I remain very grateful and feel very lucky that she thought of me,” Maisto said. “I was working a bland job and then no job at all, and she just called me. That’s kind of what Amy does: goes through her Rolodex and finds people she really wants to work with.”

Below you’ll find some of CapitalBop’s highlights from this year’s WWJF. All performances for this weekend’s WWJF will take place at the National League of American Pen Women, at 1300 17th St. NW. Tickets vary in price; patrons can purchase an all-access pass to attend the entire weekend. Tickets and the full lineup can be viewed here. More info on all festival events is available at

The Turnaround Live—Interview and Concert

Saturday, March 30, 12 PM, tickets $15
[view on CB calendar]

This year the festival is being held at a beautiful mansion owned by the National League of American Pen Women. Kicking off the weekend is a celebration of The Turnaround’s second issue. Bormet and jazz educator Jessica Boykin-Settles will participate in a live interview of Dr. Karen Wilson Ama Echefu, a singer, storyteller and “culture bearer bringing precious cargo.”

Easter Egg Hunt Jam with flutist Alex Hamburger

Sunday, March 31, 12 PM, tickets $10
[view on CB calendar]

Easter egg hunts don’t just have to be for the kids: This year’s festival features a game for everybody. Search for pink plastic eggs around the mansion and crack them open for a prompt for a jam session with Alex Hamburger. And, Bormet promises, if you arrive in a full pink bunny suit, you get in for free!

Emerging Artist Showcase

Saturday, March 30, 3 PM, tickets $20
[view on CB calendar]

When asked if she had a favorite session this year, Bormet didn’t hesitate: “I really like the emerging artist showcase,” she told CapitalBop. On Sunday, 15 high school- and college-aged artists from around the DMV will get a chance to showcase their skills to a wider audience. “It’s all original material, original arrangements, original songs and then they all play together,” Bormet explained. Featured artists include: vocalist Dash Garcia, trumpeter Ella Grace, tenor saxophonist Allison Sweeting and drummer Rainsky.



About Kaila Philo

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Kaila Philo is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Her writing has been published in The New Republic, The Baffler, Talking Points Memo, The Fader, and more. She currently works as a research and writing fellow with the African American Policy Forum.

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