Be A Blessing In Jazz
by Sunny Sumter, Executive Director
“The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you, may not call God the same name you call God, if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody.”
DC Jazz Festival (DCJF) began 2020 with a soaring commitment to unify diverse communities under the banner of jazz. We made education our focus, provided more employment opportunities for DC-based artists, and worked closely with our partners to spread the message that jazz is thriving.
In mid- January, DCJF Artistic Director Willard Jenkins and I met at the annual Jazz Congress, co-produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center and JazzTimes, with others in the field to exchange ideas and best practices with more than 1,000 artists and industry leaders in the global jazz community. I led a jazz ecosystem panel with other arts presenters focused on ways to expand audiences and bring together people from all walks of life under the umbrella of jazz. During this convening, the 2020 Bruce Lundvall Visionary Award was given to Dr. Barry Harris in recognition of his dedication as a mentor to hundreds of jazz artists for nearly half a century. Dr. Harris is and continues to be a blessing to so many.
Music festivals, performing arts organizations, and in-person art presentations came to a screeching halt in March, and the industry was challenged to rethink our business models. The promise of expanding our audiences was replaced by the promise to keep our artists working and our venues and stages open.
When the pandemic hit, the DCJF team got to work and our organization quickly pivoted our focus to supporting artists and venues by:
Hiring 60+ ensembles, 200+ artists and showcasing local and international talent on a global stage;
Collaborating with 15+ venues and partners citywide to create 100+ hours of original programming;
Providing thrilling music experiences for 280,000+ people in 22 countries around the world; and
Offering education programs – including DC Jazz Bops!, Jazzin’ InSchool, Jazzin’ AfterSchool and Meet the Artist – for more than 980 students.
The pandemic continues to challenge our humanity, and at times that means balancing our blessings, joy and excitement with moments of heartbreak and reflection. No matter the genre, the venue or the medium, let’s continue to unite our diverse communities, offer a means of expression, and present countless reasons for us to celebrate all that we have in common.
I am more proud than ever to lead the DC Jazz Festival and be part of a global community of presenters, artists, educators, producers, advocates, and patrons dedicated to jazz. Let’s continue to be a blessing to each other, united in jazz.
My DC Jazz Festival Journey
by Skylar Rea, Events and Development Coordinator
My journey with the DC Jazz Festival began three years ago during a group interview for the DCJF summer event management internship program. My plan was to rave about my days playing the clarinet in the 7th grade symphonic band and thankfully, to my surprise, it helped me land the job!
Initially, I was so excited about the opportunity to gain more experience as an event planner, but that all changed after I attended the Sitar Arts Center winter showcase in 2017 that included the DCJF Jazzin’ Afterschool students in performance. The way the kids' faces beamed after performing such a complicated jazz piece and hearing the crowd roar took me back to those clarinet playing days, and I just knew that I found a place where I could pursue my passion for giving back to my community professionally.
Being a kid from the DC suburbs, I was fortunate to have parents who could afford the necessary fees to join the band, an opportunity which may not always be accessible to students in our community. Playing an instrument early on taught me the valuable lessons of hard work, resilience, and confidence - tools that I still use to succeed today.
Please help us continue to provide enriching and entertaining music education programs for DC public and charter students, especially in underserved communities, and donate to the DCJF Year End Giving Campaign today.
How Our DC JazzBops! Early Education Program Pivoted In 2020
by Heidi Martin, Education and Community Engagement Assistant
As Ella Fitzgerald once said, “The only thing better than singing is more singing!”
Music brings us joy in so many ways! Exposing children to music during early development helps them learn the sounds and meanings of words, build motor skills and practice self-expression. Simply put, early childhood music education helps the body and mind work together in harmony.
DC JazzBops!, DC Jazz Festival’s early education program, uses jazz-inspired books, storytelling and interactive lessons to teach our community’s youngest learners about music and promote an early interest in reading. This wonderful combination of music and movement allows students to creatively express themselves using real instruments while learning about the history of the genre. During a typical class period, we tell stories about the lives of jazz legends and followed by an interactive activity that introduces the children to word segmentation and rhythmic values using jazz elder’s names.
Last week, DC JazzBops! was back in action! We filled gift bags with instruments, scarves and books to be delivered to our first class of returning students. This KIPP DC Leap class is for PreK3 students, and we were eager to get learning materials in students’ hands to use in upcoming lessons that will teach about counting a steady 4/4 beat, syncopated beats and Clave’ (latin-jazz).
We’ve worked hard to transition our DC JazzBops! Program online since COVID-19 closed our DC schools, gaining fluency with virtual tools and innovative techniques that allow us to continue offer accessible and free-of-charge DCJF music education programs to our students.
Here’s to more singing, dancing and cheer in 2021!
"DC JazzBops! provided students the tool of ‘music and movement’ as one outlet of expression. After just her first two DC JazzBops! classes, one student of mine recognized the name Duke Ellington and showed me the drum patterns she remembered learning with Ms. Heidi. Each student came to class eager to try out new skills on the instruments and to exercise their singing voices, and each student left the class proud of themselves and each other!" — Teacher, KIPP DC Connect Academy