When many people consider jazz, they think of horns and the men who played them: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Chet Baker – the list goes on.
But women also hold an exalted place in jazz music, and this year’s third annual DC JazzFest at The Yards on the Capitol Riverfront kicks off on June 17 with a tribute to women and their contributions to the genre. The Yards Park events are just one component of the larger DC Jazz Festival that runs from June 10-19.
The opening evening at Yards Park is billed as “Grrls Rule,” and features Cissa Paz, Akua Allrich & The Tribe and Sharel Cassity & Elektra. Paz is a Brazilian-born jazz singer who now lives in Northern Virginia, and Allrich is a celebrated jazz vocalist and DC native. Cassity is a New York City-based jazz saxophonist and bandleader.
Willard Jenkins, the DC Jazz Festival’s artistic director, says festival organizers are excited to present a bill featuring only women, including a female bandleader in Cassity.
“We are presenting two women vocalists and an exceptional woman instrumentalist who is leading a band that has other women instrumentalists,” Jenkins tells On Tap. “We want to highlight that broad perspective and we put [the Grrls Rule event] together as a way to focus on women in jazz.”
Paz says she’s honored to be featured on opening night of this year’s festival.
“I think it’s really nice that they thought of women, and Brazilian music, because it is not usually represented very much in the festival,” says Paz, who will be performing at the festival for the first time. “I’m honored, and I think it’s one of the greatest jazz fests here in the DC area. I’m happy to be a part of it and that they called me.”
Paz says she’s planning on a high energy show that will also showcase a slower number or two.
“They want it to be high energy so I’ve chosen dance songs,” Paz says. “Even the slow stuff will have some pretty good rhythm.”
Paz hopes the festival will expose more people to her music, and jazz music in general.
“The people who follow me already know what to expect, but I think this crowd is going to be much bigger and will include a lot of people from different backgrounds and [geographic] areas because of the way they are promoting it,” Paz says. “I think a lot of different people will show up. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Jenkins says the festival continues to grow each year and is now a citywide event. Ticketed shows are at Yards Park, the Hamilton, the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue and the Kennedy Center.
“We are in all four quadrants and in all eight wards of the city with programming, and much of it is free,” Jenkins explains. “We are the largest citywide festival that DC has, and we try to represent stylistically a broad range of ways of playing this music.”
Jenkins says in addition to celebrating women in jazz, this year’s festival will also feature an international component with jazz programs at the French, Japanese, Italian and Portuguese embassies.
“This is an international city and we have people who have landed here from all over the world,” Jenkins says. “That is reflected in the musicians’ community and in the fact that we have an ongoing series of presentations with the embassies that has been very successful. We strive to reflect the fact that we live in an international city.”
For more information on DC JazzFest at The Yards from June 17-19, visitwww.dcjazzfest.org/jazzfest-at-the-yards
. Check out Paz and fellow performers at Grrls Rule on June 17. Gates open at 5 p.m. and music continues until 10 p.m. The opening night concert is free.
Yards Park: Water Street in SE, DC; 202-465-7080; www.yardspark.org
Photo: Erin Scott