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History of the DC Jazz Festival

Learn about our rich history

Recognizing the need for an international jazz festival in the nation’s capital, renowned jazz producer Charles Fishman and his wife, attorney Stephanie Peters, founded the DC Jazz Festival® (formerly Festivals DC, Ltd.) in 2004. Initial planning for an annual DC JazzFest™ (originally billed as the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival) began and a “Gala Sneak Preview” concert took place in Fall 2004 at the Lincoln Theatre in the heart of DC’s historic U Street corridor.

The First Annual Duke Ellington Jazz Festival premiered in the District of Columbia on September 28, 2005. This mostly free, five-day festival attracted 30,000 attendees and featured an eclectic representation of world-renowned artists in the jazz/jazz-inspired tradition, including National Endowment for the Arts jazz masters Dave Brubeck and Wayne Shorter, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band from New Orleans, Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, and Wallace Roney Sextet. Programs were presented in 18 venues, including the Lincoln Theatre, The Kennedy Center, and 11 clubs and restaurants, establishing DCJF’s citywide presenting tradition. The festival highlight was a free, all-day concert at Sylvan Amphitheatre on The National Mall.


The inaugural Festival included a Congressional resolution in support of the Festival and participation by 100 Members of Congress on the Honorary Congressional Host Committee. The first Duke Ellington Festival Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Dave Brubeck by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, Co-Chair of the Honorary Congressional Host Committee, at an opening Congressional Reception on Capitol Hill. Mr. Brubeck and Joshua Davies, a Duke Ellington School for the Arts student, performed on that momentous evening.


Today, DCJF accomplishes its mission through five signature programs: the annual DC JazzFest, presented since 2005; the free, year-round DCJF Education Program, begun in 2008 to encourage DC preK-12 students to get “jazzed” about learning; Jazz ’n Families Fun Days, a free, two-day event with dozens of live performances, art-making activities and gallery talks in partnership with The Phillips Collection, offered since 2009; the Charles Fishman Embassy Series, introducing emerging and established global artists since 2012; and DCJazzPrix, our international emerging jazz band competition begun in 2016.


DCJF’s jazz performances and programs introduce jazz – our nation's gift to the world – to students and adults from all walks of life. Over the past 16 years, our citywide DC JazzFest has served more than 1.6 million people, including visitors from across the nation, international travelers, and online viewers. The festival presents a broad range of free and affordably-priced performances and education programs, and serves a diverse populace that includes low- and moderate-income DC residents. DC JazzFest presents programming in DC communities where jazz performance is otherwise non-existent, further raising the profile for jazz.


DCJF has brought DC audiences together with a diversity of emerging artists, rising stars, internationally acclaimed artists, and artists from a range of countries and traditions. Our programs have presented dozens of National Endowment for the Arts jazz masters. Additionally, with a commitment to showcasing and employing our resident artists, the DC JazzFest annually presents approximately 150 DC-based musicians.

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