Maybe, Just Maybe … Jazz Won’t Die

Posted on January 31, 2011

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In celebration of a friend’s birthday, a crew of us located a couple of spots in the greater Georgetown region for food, fellowship, and tunes. We’d had a great time enjoying the cuisine and ambiance at a superb restaurant on the Waterfront called Farmers and Fishers so we piled into the car for the quarter mile trip to our next destination: the Kennedy Center.

About five or six times per year, the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage hosts cultural acts I really enjoy. Last night’s was one such treat. The Capitol Jazz Project, an effort on the part of the Washington Performing Arts Society to preserve the genre and teach youth, featured great instrumentals from up-and-coming jazz musicians and their mentors. Take a look at its mission:

Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS) and the D.C. Public Schools, in collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center, has launched The Capitol Jazz Project, an important step in supporting music education for all students in the District of Colombia. Through the Capitol Jazz Project, students hone their listening, performing, improvising, composing, arranging, music reading, and notation skills. The Capitol Jazz Project is being implemented in 6 D.C. middle schools with a total enrollment of more than 500 music students. A true collaboration, The Capitol Jazz Project brings the combined resources and expertise of WPAS, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the D.C. Public Schools to create a model music education program.

In heartwarming fashion, this first band – a large, red-shirted one comprised of 11- through 13-year olds – performed a set led by Jeff Antoniuk who introduced timeless tunes such as “Take the ‘A’ Train,” began playing himself, and then allowed individual instrument-clad kids to play their upright basses, clarinets and keyboards during timely solos. I have no doubt these junior high school children will become talented contributors to the future of jazz. My ears enjoyed the rich sounds played even when the young musicians expressed a bit of timidity here and there. The strings, percussions, and horns were all pleasant and gratifying.

The Armand Hirsch Trio took the second half of the evening to a new level, blessing our ears with their rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Tuesday Heartbreak,” and their own “Big Words.” The extended rounds included Jake Sherman on organ, Armand Hirsch on guitar, and Jake Goldbas as the percussionist. The latter Jake was one of the more talented drummers and cymbal-tappers I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. His timing and versatility were superior. The organ player introduced me to that instrument in a jazz context, which I’d never noticed before. The richness of the organ and Jake’s expert play were undeniable. And Armand’s exhibition of his acoustic-looking electric guitar was both passionate and beautiful.

With the large crowd looking on in this bright, rectangular hall, the jazz being played by both young & slightly older served as a delightful expression of American classical music. In a country where often fewer than one radio station per metropolitan area features its tunes and music education is constantly victimized by budget cuts, there is hope that jazz just might live on.

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Posted in: Music