Uniting Our Community by Sunny Sumter, President and CEO
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, DC Jazz Festival, like other cultural organizations, scrambled not only to meet the needs of our constituents, but to survive. The past 20 months have been an exercise in rethinking, remodeling, reimagining and restructuring. As Artistic Director Willard Jenkins and Education Coordinator Heidi Martin outline in their articles in this fall edition, we made a way out of no way to make room for our stars – artists, students and audiences – to make deeper connections. Our organization prioritized health protocols to ensure staff were equipped to work at home, and we shifted our performances and education programming to the virtual world. The pandemic itself provoked a deep sense of organizational humility. For DC Jazz Festival Education, virtual classrooms became our norm overnight. And, as businesses began to close around us – including many DC jazz performance spaces like Twins Jazz, Blues Alley, 18th Street Lounge, and U Street Music Hall – we knew there was no time to focus on individual solutions. It was a time for community. Our budget shrunk by 40% from 2019 to 2020, but we retained 100% of our staff and operated with an underlying premise: work efficiently and write checks to as many artists as possible. DC Jazz Festival produced a From Home Series and a Live From Your Living Room Series to support DC artists. We presented a virtual 2020 DC JazzFest and allocated nearly 80% of our annual budget toward programming…in a pandemic year. Answering the community call, DCJF produced a Day of Reflection to honor DMV residents who lost their lives to COVID, including my mom, Lil Jo, who lost her battle with COVID-related illness in May 2020. I personally invited more than 30 DC arts organization leaders to be part of the Day of Reflection tribute. Nearly every organization participated – evidence that the arts community can unite for the greater good. From Capital Fringe to Theater Alliance, THEARC to Arena Stage, Ford’s Theatre to Washington Chorus, we held hands. At a time when the nation and our communities felt so disconnected, the DC arts community found its common humanity to remember lives lost, and offered hope to a community grieving the lives of loved ones. You can see it in its entirety here. New realities led to real conversations about the potential for deeper and sustained partnerships and we began a new year, 2021. Collaboration and community went hand in hand, again with our artists front and center. Significant grants from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Performance Forward Fund and National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs allowed our organization to continue creating and reimagining our valued work. DC Jazz Festival Education worked closely with the DC Office of Teaching and Learning to bring relatable experiences to students through our Jazz and Hip Hop virtual field trip led by multi-instrumentalist Nate Jolley. Leaders at Sitar Arts Center, Whitman-Walker Health, Bishop Walker School for Boys, KIPP DC, and the Embassies of Finland and Sweden collaborated with DC Jazz Festival Education to offer engaging instruction that got students “jazzed” about learning and provided inspiration for adults when screen fatigue was at an all-time high. Outloud!, a “real talk” panel on LGBTQI+ experiences in the music industry moderated by DC’s own John Murph, stands out as one of our most engaging conversations in 2021. Something else happened in this year. I was scheduled to emcee a DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities program on jazz and poetry, but instead spent weeks in the Suburban Hospital ICU challenged with COVID pneumonia, respiratory failure and sepsis. I cannot thank the Johns Hopkins Health team enough for saving my life. Inspired by my mom’s voice, an attentive pulmonologist, family and friends, I recovered and returned with a renewed sense of purpose. With an appreciation for every single breath, I worked alongside the “best staff ever,” our production team, and a dedicated Board to produce one of our proudest achievements, the 17th edition of DC JazzFest (see "DC JazzFest Triumphs" from Downbeat Magazine). We worked in true collaboration with our lead partners at the Embassy of Sweden, Howard University College of Fine Arts, Westminster Church, The Phillips Collection, Kreeger Museum, Mr. Henry’s, Union Stage, Anacostia BID, and the District Wharf to celebrate our diversity and the sheer desire to come together, in person. And, we offered virtual streaming for our fans worldwide who wanted to get in on the celebration. DC Jazz Festival is regaining its footing and weathering the COVID-19 storm by reevaluating its mission, strategic vision, and sustainability plans in light of changing circumstances. This year, DCJF felt compelled to shift our organization in a more foundational way. In conversations with others in our community, we see pathways for more deliberate collaboration. The last 20 months have given us time to rethink, remodel, reimagine, restructure – and reemerge stronger with the recognition that we have an important role to play in uniting our community. Lastly, years ago TransAfrica commissioned me to write a song about uniting the UN and African countries toward shared alliance. I spent a couple weeks teaching the piece, “Come Unite,” to a choir with students of all colors at the Sidwell Friends School. We performed the work at the opening of the TransAfrica Conference, to a standing ovation. General Colin Powell was in the front row along with leaders from the diplomatic community. The lyrics were: Come unite and let our voices sing With the choirs of angels Let’s sing, let’s dance, in unity for Africa Let’s stand united arm in arm. I think these lyrics are relevant for our DC community, our nation, and DC Jazz Festival’s work. I have been thinking about the life of General Powell and how we are measured by the work we do and the roles we play. I believe the arts have a significant role to play in healing our communities. Let’s get to work.
Jazz at The Corner at Whitman-Walker by Willard Jenkins, Artistic Director
Picture Credits: Jati Lindsay
Beyond DC Jazz Festival's efforts to bring great jazz to the DC community, we support, assist, and collaborate with institutions that serve our community needs across an array of ongoing concerns. Whitman-Walker Health has been a social justice pillar in the Washington, DC community for nearly 50 years. A pioneer in HIV care and AIDS activism throughout its service to our community, Whitman-Walker is dedicated to racial and gender equality in health care. The Corner at Whitman-Walker, located on 14th Street in a vibrant DC neighborhood, is a natural outgrowth of Whitman-Walker’s service to the DC community. A sunlit, airy gallery space, The Corner was at one time the lobby of the original Whitman-Walker Clinic, which has long been dedicated to serving the LGBTQ community with a space to receive stigma-free care and treatment. These days, The Corner is dedicated to cultural expression as a life force, which clearly dovetails with our DCJF mission. With the colorful, informative backdrop of The Corner’s current pop art, pandemic and racial justice-inspired exhibit, DCJF partnered with Whitman-Walker to present the Jazz at The Corner concert series. Jazz at The Corner kicked off May 13th with pianist Chris Grasso and his exceptional quartet, which included saxophonist Paul Carr. Grasso is an accomplished artist who has performed on previous DC JazzFest programs, including our triumphant 2019 Kennedy Center tribute to Quincy Jones and Roy Hargrove. For many of the attendees, the event served as the very first socially-distanced music experience since the pandemic was declared in March 2020. Preceding each of the shows was our ongoing DCJF Meet the Artist interview series, which consists of brief conversations with each of the bandleaders. These interviews provided audiences with some artistic and personal context to each performance, and were conducted by DCJF’s Matt Singer, Whitman-Walker art educator Sol Mutisya, and myself. Other featured artists in the series included vocalist Steve Washington, pianist and Peabody educator Joshua Espinoza, pianist-accordionist Simone Baron, vocalist Landon Paddock, bass guitarist-vocalist C. Corey Bey, and series closer vocalist-pianist Chris Urquiaga, known professionally as JChris. Overall, despite Covid protocols, audiences increased with each performance, largely by word-of-mouth. The Jazz at The Corner concert series was a resoundingly positive welcome back to live jazz for our DCJF community. Thank you to our hosts at Whitman-Walker, the amazing performers, and all the audience members who helped make it such a success.
DC Jazz Festival Education: The Beat Goes On by Heidi Martin, Education Coordinator
Picture Credit: Bishop Walker School
Since March 2020, the coronavirus crisis has significantly impacted our education system, with the closure of schools and subsequent transition to virtual learning that lasted throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Despite the challenge, DC Jazz Festival Education was able to coordinate a smooth and immediate transition of our education programming to virtual classes and online sessions. DCJF Education even saw expanded programming in 2021 including a master class and a guitar summer camp. Throughout, DCJF Education maintained a vibrant presence, albeit virtually, reaching DC public and charter school students as well as budding musicians at Sitar Arts Center. Instruction continued with DC JazzBops!, our early childhood program, extending to five KIPP DC schools. Jazzin’ AfterSchool at Sitar Arts Center, taught by lead instructor/bassist Herman Burney, continued virtually via JamKazam. Jazzin’ InSchool continued with our “Jazz and Hip-Hop” field trip, presented online to over a dozen schools with support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Our “Piano as a Secondary Instrument” master class, led by pianist clinician Janelle Gill, reached students throughout the DMV thanks to our utilization of video-conferencing platforms. During the summer, we had the opportunity to hold several weeks of in-person instruction with limited class sizes and social distancing maintained between students and educators. A “Beginning Guitar” summer camp program served Bishop Walker School for Boys students at THEARC campus in Southeast DC, just a short distance from where Sunny Sumter grew up in Anacostia. Each child received an acoustic or electric guitar and learned “Killer Joe,” a jazz standard by the great Benny Golson. Classes were held twice weekly in July, and course material alternated between chords and melody study with the ultimate goal of having the students play together as an ensemble. This use of integrated learning, voices, instruments, historical references and movement all contributed to the final outcome of providing an emotional connection to the music for students to boost their learning and self-expression. Some of the students may become musicians, but overall we hope they all became fans of the music for life, thanks to our program. Please click the "Donate" button below, your contribution allows us to continue to offer accessible and affordable DCJF music education programs to our students.
In Giving We Receive by Vanya Robinson, Special Assistant to the CEO
Picture Credit: Justin Featherstone
“For it is in giving that we receive.” -St. Francis of Assisi The festive season is upon us, and what better time to reflect on all the gifts and blessings we have given and received this year? DC Jazz Festival remains grateful for the generous support we receive from our sponsors, partners and patrons. They are critical in helping us present jazz across the District, highlight the cultural importance of jazz, and provide engaging, year-round music education programs for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Jazz music is a great unifier, bringing culturally diverse residents together. As we reflect on the year that was 2021, DC Jazz Festival is proud of its contributions in uniting our community through signature events – the annual DC JazzFest, DC JazzPrix international band competition, and Charles Fishman Embassy Series – and DC Jazz Festival Education, which gets kids “jazzed” about learning. Beyond providing paid performance opportunities for DC-based, national, and international jazz artists, DC Jazz Festival brought these talented artists together with young people in our communities to teach and share the power of jazz. Thanks to the generosity of our Circle of Friends patrons, we delivered exciting in-school and after-school educational programming – both virtually and in person – that advanced students’ musical and life skills throughout the year. Each Circle of Friends level has a measurable impact on the students we serve. At varying levels, your generosity enables: · Patron's Circle: 5 students to attend a master class with a renowned musician; · Benefactor Circle: 20 students to attend a master class with a renowned musician; · Ovation Society Circle: 200 students to attend a professional jazz performance; · Artistic Director Circle: DC Jazz Festival to connect the community with major regional talent through the free Jazz ‘n Families Fun Days program, coming back in 2022; · Producer Circle: sixteen (16)-week early childhood music, behavioral development, and reading initiative through DC JazzBops! early childhood education program and; · Chairman Circle: DCJF to offer Meet the Artist conversations with world-renowned jazz artists year-round. We invite you to become a Circle of Friends member and enjoy exclusive benefits, including tickets to DC JazzFest concerts and receptions, and invitations to special events. Your tax-deductible gift to DC Jazz Festival makes a significant difference! Please click here for more information about how to join our Circle of Friends and find the contribution level that works best for you.