By Danny R. Johnson
WASHINGTON – An enthusiastic and exuberant sold-out crowd filled all 2500 seats in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Concert Hall on June13 to mark the official end of the 2011 DC Jazz Festival in Washington, DC. Jazz fans were not disappointed for the rich musical tapestry of New Orleans was brought to life with performers from the wildly popular HBO television series Tremé from David Simon and Eric Overmyer. Produced by Danny Melnick for Absolutely Live Entertainment in association with actor Wendell Pierce, who portrays smooth-talking Antoine Batiste on the TV series, the concert featured the Rebirth Brass Band; Mardi Gras Indian Chief and alto saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. (Music Director); singer and trumpeter James Andrews; clarinetist Dr. Michael White; and funky trombonist Big Sam Williams. This was the exhilarating culminating concert of the 2011 DC Jazz Festival, held June 1-13 in musical venues across the DC metropolitan area.
DC Jazz Festival Executive Producer, Charles Freeman commented, “In 2009, when the festival celebrated New Orleans, and honored Jazz Master Ellis Marsalis, I told him that each year the DC Jazz Festival would have a feature about New Orleans.” Freeman went on to state, “We are proud to present these renowned artists from Tremé, enabling our audience to enjoy and further appreciate the music, history and culture of the great city of New Orleans.”
DC Jazz Festival organizers said that attendance to this year’s series of events, which numbered around 80,000, were better than expected; and those who showed up had a chance to hear some of the greatest names in American jazz perform. That some of them included yours truly — The Groove Man. Jazz family, no one was disappointed when given the opportunity to watch and listen to what the late jazz pianist Dr. Billy Taylor called, “America’s classical music,” which is jazz baby. Let me give you a rundown on some of the highlights of artists you missed:
DC Jazz Festival Honored Jimmy Heath and Eddie Palmieri
DC Jazz Festival presented its annual Lifetime Achievement Award to two unique jazz legends: brilliant saxophonist Jimmy Heath, and celebrated Puerto Rican pianist, Eddie Palmieri — both are renowned bandleaders and prodigious composers. Each year, the DC Jazz Festival honors jazz greats for their lifetime contributions to jazz and humanity. Past awardees include James Moody, Ellis Marsalis, George Wein, Clark Terry, Hank Jones, Dr. Billy Taylor and Dave Brubeck.
The Return of Jazz on the Mall
After a one-year hiatus, the DC Jazz Festival’s immensely popular Jazz on the National Mall returned to the nation’s capital and featured electrifying performances by the Toby Foyeh Afro Jazz Quartet, Claudia Acuña Quintet, Frédéric Yonnet, Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor, and the Eddie Palmieri All-Star Salsa Orchestra.
Bobby McFerrin Debuts New Musical Recording
Bobby McFerrin performed his acclaimed inspirational new recording, VOCAbuLarieS, accompanied by Howard University’s Afro Blue Reunion Choir at the Warner Theatre. Best known for his global hit, “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” McFerrin is one of the world’s most recognized vocal innovators and improvisers. He has been described as a habitual rule-breaker when it comes to conventionalism, also a world-renowned classical conductor; he has absorbed and assimilated a host of musical genres, including jazz, R&B, classical, pop and world, music into his own art. In addition to his endless creativity as an artist, Bobby McFerrin is a passionate spokesperson for music education.
The Groove Man managed to sneak in some time to go listen to drummer sensational, Nathan Jolley and his brother, pianist Noble Jolley, at B. Smith Restaurant, located in Washington, DC’s Union Station. These two young cats can play some drums and piano!
Nathan and Noble Jolley – Rising Stars in the Jazz World
Nathan Jolley’s bio runs something like this – tell me later on if you do not think this brother is going to be around a long time: Nathan is a professional jazz drummer, percussionist, composer, songwriter, arranger, and producer from Washington DC. Nathan received his B.M. in Jazz Studies/Jazz Percussion from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University.
Nathan began playing the drums at the age of two. His parents discovered his gift when it was time to prepare dinner for the family, and Nathan was in his room playing on pots and pans. Nathan Jolley’s enthusiasm about the drums has not changed. Home schooled through the Cedar Brook Academy, Nathan graduated in 2005 as an honor student. After graduation, Nathan was offered a full scholarship to the prestigious Johns Hopkins University Peabody Conservatory. The youngest of seven, Nathan grew up in a musical family. Nathan’s greatest influence is his father, the late Noble L. Jolley, Sr., renowned jazz guitarist, and composer, who earned the first degree in Jazz Studies at Howard University in 1977.
Nathan has performed with the Peabody Conservatory Lab Band, Jazz Orchestra and Latin Jazz Band; the Washington Jazz Arts Institute Orchestra; and the WES Group.
Nathan also performs with his brother Noble Jr., in the Jolley Twins Group. Nathan has opened for John Legend, Ron Carter, James Moody, and McCoy Tyner; he has performed with Antonio Hart, Ingrid Jensen, Eric Lewis, Gary Thomas, Cynda Williams from Spike Lee’s “Mo Better Blues,” and Malcolm Jamal Warner from the “Cosby Show.” He was invited by Rufus Reid to study at the prestigious “Ravinia Jazz Festival” in Chicago, IL, and was invited to study with Christian McBride, at the prestigious “Aspen Snow Mass Summer Jazz Camp“; in Aspen, Colorado.
Nathan’s CD credits include: The Wes Group’s “A Jazz Mass” and their latest release “Ancestors;” “American University Jazz Christmas;” “Rebel Youth Shine Compilation Album; Fred Foss’ “Lessons From The Masters,” and Rashida Jolley’s “Love Is Not A Game.” He has toured in Cuba, St Lucia, Anguilla, and Bonaire.
Nathan has also performed at the East Coast Jazz Festival, Kennedy Center, Blues Alley, Lincoln Theater, Zanzibar Blue in Philadelphia, and the Blue Note in New York, to name a few. Nathan has received critical acclaim for his stellar performances. Evan Haga from wrote Jazz Times Magazine, “Nathan is an equally confident and expressive player whose performance was a display of youthful athleticism; he buoyed and bounced around the kit with an elasticity that matched the shifting dynamics of his drumming. It was explosive musicianship that deserved a bountiful audience.”
Noble Jolley, Jr. is a Jazz pianist, composer, producer and arranger from Washington, DC, who exhibited musical abilities at a young age. Noble received his B.M. in Jazz Studies from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University. An inquisitive child, Noble taught himself to play harmonica when he was three, followed shortly with the accordion.
Noble’s formal music training began at the age of five when he studied viola at the renowned DC Youth Orchestra Program, and where he began studying trumpet at the age of eight. During this time, Noble would sit at the piano creating what his mother called “Gershwin-like melodies.” Noble fell in love with the piano, and eventually began taking formal piano lessons, while receiving theory lessons from his father.
In 2000, Noble began to play and study jazz trumpet and piano with the Fred Foss Youth Jazz Orchestra, while playing and studying classical trumpet at the DC Youth Orchestra Program. He performed with the Fred Foss Youth Jazz Orchestra at the 2000 Havana Jazz Festival in Havana Cuba at the age of 13; and for the next few years, at the East Coast Jazz Festival, the American University Blues & Jazz Festival, and the Maryland Youth Jazz Festival.
A young songstress accompanied Nathan and Noble by the name of Christie Dashiell. Jazz family, this young lady reminded me of Sarah Vaughn in those early recordings in the 1940s and 50s. Christie is a masterful scant singer, which she beautifully displayed on several tunes she sung. Keep your eyes and ears open for Christie – she is destined for greatness.
The only advice I can give B. Smith Restaurant management is this: Find another location to place your jazz performers so that they are not right in front of the main entrance. It was difficult to fully enjoy and appreciate all that wonderful music the Jolley brothers and Christie were delivering when you have servers and restaurant guests walking in front of you, which is also very distracting to the musicians performing. Another point I need to stress – a fine upper crust restaurant like B. Smith should have the finest baby grand piano for a pianist to play on. I suggest management might want to get a new piano. These fine musicians deserve better.
Danny “The Groove Man” Johnson is a freelance entertainment news journalist based in Washington, DC