When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall by Executive Director Sunny Sumter
As the splendor of autumn prepares us for the change in season, it is that time of year when I reflect on our cultural significance in DC and the impact of the DC Jazz Festival. Thousands made DC JazzFest a destination this past June by attending at least three jazz events, all while taking in a museum or enjoying good food and libations at hot spots around town. I was proud to sit down with the National Endowment for the Arts to talk about the significance and challenges of the DC Jazz Festival organization and why the arts matter. Check out the full NEA Arts Works Blog feature here.
We know that the backbone of DC is built on arts and culture, and jazz continues to be a thriving part of its music scene. With mostly free and moderately-priced events, the 2016 DC JazzFest brought music to nearly 76,000 people in 22 neighborhoods across the District, featuring local and internationally acclaimed performers. And, since we know DC loves "free," we kicked it all off with a free prelude event, Jazz ‘n Families Fun Days, in partnership with The Phillips Collection; Over two days, we witnessed more than 4,500 attendees enjoy eighteen diverse samplings of jazz while also expanding their minds by exploring the visual arts around the museum. The diversity of this country is directly reflected in the dynamics of jazz, and Jazz ‘n Families Fun Days continues to be an excellent example of the celebration of that diversity, attracting folks from all walks of life to explore the synergy of jazz and the visual arts – all for free.
This year, we also witnessed the closing of Bohemian Caverns, our dear partner and a longstanding jazz institution. The Washington Post recently asked its readers “Can the city’s jazz be saved?” noting that America’s original art form may be fading from the culture of America’s capital city. From my vantage point, I can see that jazz music and all of its extensions are alive and vibrant in DC. But we do know that, with an absence of jazz on mainstream channels, our organization does play a major role in building tomorrow’s jazz fans – just visit Sitar Arts Center for DC Jazz Festival’s Jazzin’ AfterSchool, our instrumental class, and you will see young people relishing in the opportunity to learn about jazz and getting jazzed about learning overall. Or, check out Snarky Puppy, Esperanza Spalding, Trombone Shorty, or Kamasi Washington – all of whom we have presented – and you will see that young audiences are diggin’ all that jazz.
Many of us adore this music, especially the swing, and now, more than ever, the onus is on all of us to match this enthusiasm with our financial support – to continue to bring free events during JazzFest and to ensure that we are able to keep providing free education programs to DC's youth. A commitment to jazz music education is not a one-dimensional service. Instead, it helps us to raise whole, well-rounded kids and encourages students to approach other areas of learning with enthusiasm and discipline. In the words of Wynton Marsalis, “... art engages you in the world, not just the world around you but the big world, and not just the big world of Tokyo and Sydney and Johannesburg, but the bigger world of ideas and concepts and feelings of history and humanity.” Sentiments like these make the work that we do at the DC Jazz Festival all the more meaningful. During this giving season, I hope that you will consider investing in our organization, the future of jazz, and the celebration of diversity. Every gift does make a difference!