The 7th annual DC Jazz Festival, under the prescient guidance of Charlie Fishman and Sunny Sumter (who though still a young woman, insists she has “retired” as a jazz vocalist, but we still hold out hope…) closed last Monday evening with the DC tour appearance of “A Night in Treme.” Assembled to take a good chunk of the exceptional music component of David Simon’s brilliant HBO series “Treme” on the road and bring us outlyers a nice taste of vivid New Orleans’ music culture for an evening, the show is expertly narrated by the program’s lead actor Wendell Pierce (who plays trombonist Antoine Batiste).
The program begins with Pierce, wielding a blue tambourine, trailing (or second lining) the evening’s cast of musicians marching onto the stage NOLA-style: the Rebirth Brass Band, Big Chief Donald Harrison on alto sax, trumpeter James “The Satchmo of the Ghetto” Andrews, clarinet historian Dr. Michael White, and robust trombonist Big Sam Williams, of Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Pierce, working from a podium, provides excellent narrative, unraveling a few of what for some un-initiates may be the mysteries of New Orleans culture: What’s a second line? Why the Mardi Gras Indians? and the like. Yeah ‘ya right! Each of the three soloists – Harrison, White, and Andrews – drew a solo spot, most opposite Rebirth. However Harrison took the occasion to blow a smoldering sax cadenza suitable for illustrating that yes indeed, New Orleans also has an exceptional modern jazz culture. He modulated on “Misty,” took the “A Train” in an obvious nod to DC’s #1 jazz son, and wound up doing a “Mexican Hat Dance.” Trad jazz was represented by White unfurling the old warhorse “St. James Infirmary,” segueing from “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”.
The SRO crowd at the KC Concert Hall – which is usually a rather staid assemblage – belied that notion by jumping to its feet at the merest coaxing from the musicians, spending the majority of the evening swaying, stomping, bobbing heads and twisting necks in a near constant jump-up to the incessant rhythms. So raucous was the occasion that I kept waiting for the place to go into orbit! Yes, it was that kind of night and that kind of close to a very successful DC Jazz Festival. Check www.dcjazzfest.org to stay in touch.