Settle into the late summer and spend your Labor Day weekend the soulful way with our guide to this year’s DC Jazz Fest.
Brace yourself for a soulful start to September as D.C.’s largest jazz festival returns for its nineteenth year. Beginning August 30 through September 3, the annual DC Jazz Fest invites the region’s residents and visitors alike to enjoy an extraordinary lineup of jazz musicians — from globally renowned superstars to emerging homegrown talent — through 100+ concerts at 30 venues citywide.
At this year’s DC Jazz Fest, you can take refuge from the summer heat at an abundance of iconic indoor venues, including The Anthem, Arena Stage and Union Stage. But if soaking up the shortening summer days instead strikes your fancy, head to the festival’s signature two-day event, DC Jazz Fest at The Wharf, and immerse in spectacular city views as well as soothing sounds. There are also plentiful opportunities for intimate artist Q&As and meet-and-greet experiences. Regardless of how you choose to enjoy the festival, or how well-versed you already are in the language of jazz, rest assured that there will be something for you.
In a recent conversation for District Fray’s August issue between Sunny Sumter, DC Jazz Fest President and CEO, and Monica Alford, Editor-in-Chief, Sumter reaffirms that the festival is not only for the jazz aficionado. Sumter says of the multifaceted lineup that, “My sweet spot is always trying to introduce [jazz] music to folks who don’t really listen to it. For the casual fan, [the lineup is] just great because they have so much to choose from.”
And what makes Washington, D.C. — the proud home of the pivotal jazz giant and festival’s former namesake, Duke Ellington — a top destination to celebrate all things jazz? “[D.C.] is a cosmopolitan city. It’s an international city. It’s got a global network and jazz is now a global brand,” Sumter says. “Folks are coming to Jazz Fest not necessarily because of the music. They’re coming for the experience.”
Are you feeling as jazzed about the festival as we are now? Keep reading to hear exclusively from three artists and groups in the festival’s star-studded lineup, and begin planning your visit with our weekend highlights and team insider tips.
Udobi performs at the first-ever Generations Series at Arena Stage on August 31.
District Fray: Your website states that your interest in jazz started when you relocated to Nigeria at nine. You continued nurturing this passion when your family returned to the U.S. How does your multicultural upbringing influence your jazz sound and style?
Udobi: My multicultural upbringing influenced my sound in a lot of ways because I grew up listening to Afrobeat and traditional Nigerian music, and then eventually jazz and classical music before I started playing. If you listen to my album “In The Wild,” you can hear all of these stylistic influences.
Why are you excited to participate in this year’s inaugural Generations Series concert? How about the festival more broadly?
I’m excited to participate in the festival this year because of the opportunity to tell my story through music with a new audience, as well as meet some of the other musicians who will be performing this year.
Brent Birckhead of BIRCKHEAD
This illustrious group represents the DMV as one of three finalists at the internationally competitive DCJazzPrix and will play on September 2.
District Fray: Describe BIRCKHEAD’s sound and style.
Birckhead: BIRCKHEAD is a group uninhibited in our embrace of experimentation. We pull from the rage of punk and political activism to the nuanced soul of classic R&B, the murky wobble of funk, and the unbridled freedom of our jazz. Our goal is to become a benchmark for dynamism, surpass the conventions of subjugation and challenge popular music standards.
You’re the only group of the 2023 DCJazzPrix finalists representing the DMV. What would it mean for your group to win this highly competitive, international competition close to home?
For us, the DMV is where we all first cut our teeth at the local jazz clubs, go-gos and churches. As products of Howard University, The University of the District of Columbia and the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, it’s an honor to represent our home at one of the most prestigious jazz fests in the world.
Who else are you excited to see from this year’s lineup?
We’re excited to see many of our musical heroes and friends, including Kenny Garrett, Donald Harrison, Gregory Porter, Charles Lloyd and Mark Meadows. I look forward to seeing as many acts as I can.
Charles brings Creole groove to the DC Jazz Fest at The Wharf on September 3.
District Fray: Describe your sound and style.
Charles: Twenty-first-century Caribbean music — music that bounces, exploring Creole grooves and styles from the Caribbean, North, South and Central America, including calypso, reggae and rara.
As a 2022 Creative Capital Awardee, you have been informing compositions for your multimedia jazz project, “Earth Tones,” with your travels to multiple regions worldwide. Which region’s sound has resonated with you lately?
So far, the regional sounds that have resonated with me are Suriname and Maldives.
You’re usually based in Miami. Why are you excited about this year’s festival, and coming to D.C.?
I’m excited about this festival due to the rich history of jazz and Caribbean migration in D.C. The lineup is incredible, and I look forward to reconnecting with so many of my favorite artists.
Who are you excited to see from this year’s lineup?
Looking forward to hearing Kenny Garrett, Dave Holland and Samara Joy.
Plan Your DC JazzFest Itinerary
Gather your friends and get familiar with the festival schedule highlights.
DC JazzFest at Eaton DC: Opening Day
This year’s DC JazzFest will kick off its festival schedule with none other than homegrown talent, the DC Jazz All-Stars directed by Allyn Johnson. Taking place at cultural hub Eaton DC, kindred spirits, locals and travelers alike are invited to convene, collaborate and create. Listen to a sample of all things jazz, from swing, salsa, neo-soul, gospel and go-go. It’s guaranteed an all-day celebration right in downtown D.C. Free. 5 p.m. 1201 K St. NW, DC; dcjazzfest.org // @
DC JazzFest at Arena Stage: Generations Series
Enjoy the inaugural Generations Series at Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle this late summer evening. Guests can expect a multi-generational cast of musicians, including the soulful Benny Green; swinging Hope Udobi; instigator and current DCJF Artist-in-Residence, Orrin Evans; and more. A conversation moderated by DCJF President and CEO Sunny Sumter will follow this first concert, undoubtedly leaving you yearning for more. $49+. 7:30 p.m. 1101 6th St. SW, DC; dcjazzfest.org // @
DC JazzFest Presents Gregory Porter
For this fully-seated performance, the dynamic D.C.-based trio The String Queens will open with their authentic, soulful and orchestral sound, before Grammy-award-winning Gregory Porter graces the stage. Known for his warm baritone vocals, Porter’s earthy, cross-pollinated brand of jazz, soul and gospel, combined with the rousing notes of the String Queens, will make for an unforgettable musical experience. $68+. 8 p.m. 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; dcjazzfest.org // @dcjazzfest
DC JazzFest at The Wharf: Day One
The first day of this stellar waterfront weekend will feature Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble, Charles Lloyd Kindred Spirits, Terri Lyne Carrington New Standards, Omar Sosa Quarteto Americanos, Orrin Evans Quintet w/special guest Sy Smith, Julieta Eugenio Trio, Isabelle Olivier, Chase Elodia’s Perennials, and Veronneau. For both days at The Wharf, tickets are available with standing, seated and VIP options, and single-day or all-access (Saturday and Sunday). $20+. 12 p.m. 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; dcjazzfest.org // @dcjazzfest
DC JazzFest at The Wharf: Day Two
Closing out the weekend is Samara Joy, Kenny Garrett and Sounds From the Ancestors, Dave Holland Trio feat. Kevin Eubanks and Eric Harland, Big Chief Donald Harrison, Ludovica Burtone Quartet, Etienne Charles Creole Soul, Vinny Valentino feat. Marshall Keys, Frederico Peña, Dennis Chambers, BIRCKHEAD, and Mark G. Meadows. $20+. 12 p.m. 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; dcjazzfest.org // @dcjazzfest
Be in the Know With Our Team Insider Tips
Note down these unique activations and experiences to look forward to.
- Party at The Anacostia Jazz Hop. Where New Orleans’s second line meets D.C. go-go. Hosted by Brass-A-Holics and the JoGo Project on Friday, September 1.
- Get personal with your favorite musicians. At The Wharf, guests can enjoy an up-close view and intimate conversation at the Meet the Artist Tent.
- Learn with DC Jazz Bops at the Wharf. Families with little ones can join award-winning teacher and vocalist Heidi Martin; pianist Janelle Gill; and trumpeter DonVonte McCoy for an engaging fun experience with call and response, rhythm recognition and a jazz-inspired story-time at Recreation Pier on Saturday, September 2.
- Join the Fun Zone on Transit Pier. After hanging out at Recreation Pier, head to Transit Pier and immerse in curated experiences with festival partners Disney, British Virgin Islands, and Events DC.
- Look out for High West Whiskey. DCJF is bringing back a festival favorite from last year. Their special Louis Armstrong cocktail is bound to be a hit.
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