The Independent Ear

Jason & Alicia Hall Moran introduce Yes Records

Pianist-composer-bandleader and Kennedy Center Jazz curator Jason Moran became one of the true lead voices in the music largely on the combination of his restless artistry and a strong recording relationship with Blue Note Records. His wife, the striking contralto Alicia Hall Moran – whose cameos in the exceptional Charles Lloyd documentary film “Arrows Into Infinity” were so powerful – has entered the recording arena as well. Jason and Alicia are the parents of twin sons (who once memorably joined their Dad onstage at the Kennedy Center Jazz Club in a hilarious dance bit to cap off a killin’ set by the old man’s Bandwagon trio), and proud Harlemites. Together they are collaborating on a true family affair, the launch of their own recordings imprint Yes Records. Jason has been featured in the Independent Ear on several previous occasions, so obviously some questions about this new venture were in order, only this time for both he and Alicia.

Jason & Alicia Moran_9988_R
Photo by Dawood Bey

There are countless artists out here who would kill to record for Blue Note; yet despite his successful run there you and Jason have chosen to embark on the brave world of independent recording labels. What was behind your decision to launch this new venture Yes Records?

Alicia Hall Moran:I believe that Jason’s tremendous ride with Blue Note Records was due entirely to the brilliance and muscle of the legendary visionary, the late Bruce Lundvall. Bruce passed away in 2015 and with that, so did the era of beautiful, raging music that represented Jason so well. It’s not a sad time, it’s a time to celebrate all these outrageously artistic accomplishments Bruce single-handedly helped make possible for Jason, and continue on in that tradition. Bruce was a direct link to the jazz greats Jason cut his teeth transcribing, yet he gave Jason all the freedom in the world. The question was always, “What are we going to do next?” He adored Jason. It was a singular sort of love and respect. And he extended that grace to my entire family. He was a King of sorts and so importantly, he had style: handwritten notes and pinstripe suits. His respect for the music Jason loves was so immense, you felt it and saw it when he walked into any room. He had what I call backbone. It was beautiful to behold. But he left us so now Jason just has to rise to the occasion. YES RECORDS is our response to Life, in celebration of The Good Life. You got to say YES to opportunities like this and go with it and have fun!

Will you both record projects for Yes Records, and do you feel a greater sense of freedom to explore various projects on your own imprint?

A.M.: We’ll both do projects on YES. I have a classical background and Jason’s firmly rooted in the jazz tradition so the discipline is there but to me, the chord is only as interesting as the thought behind it. Singing is Thinking to me. I’ve been singing my entire life. But the act of recording my music is relatively new to me. It’s such a privilege to make a sound and then capture it in that way, if you think about it. In human history that’s been impossible to do for almost the entire life of our species. It’s only relatively recently that technology even allows us to do this. It’s amazing, really. The fact we can hear someone’s voice from last week, or last year, or now even 100 years ago. That is amazing! I feel like we shouldn’t forget that. So to me it’s magical. Yes, that I feel so strongly about some sound I’m making that I feel you should want to hear it even after the moment, those sound waves, have passed and that breath is spent. To me, or maybe I’m spoiled, but I just feel like that’s what I want to be dealing with day in and day out. Magic. Nothing less. Otherwise, why bother. Suffice it to say I naturally feel pretty free in my music. It’s the privilege of getting to capture that freedom. It’s an oxymoron, right?

Please tell us about your new recording “Heavy Blue”, in terms of the scope of your project and your goals for this record.

A.M. HEAVY BLUE is an atmosphere. I really wanted HEAVY BLUE to sound like me. And it does! HEAVY BLUE blends the classical music I love with the jazz environment I live inside as the wife of Jason Moran. It embraces Soul music and 80s pop. It has a femininity and a sensuality but also a forthrightness. HEAVY BLUE needed to sound like the past that I am descended from, my ancestry, the wide-open spaces and the pure night sky, while being honest to the ways I feel my culture now as a Harlem, New York resident. The pavement, the sophistication. I love this record, how it turned out. HEAVY BLUE is such an emotionally honest record. It’s my first album and YES gave me complete control so there was no pressure to fit into a niche or even define one. I’m playing every song I love to it’s truest core for me as a singer and that takes my voice through a dozen different colors and lot of range. HEAVY BLUE speaks to my point of view. It’s about the human voice, the trained human singing voice, but with not too many bells and whistles beyond that. Besides Jason on Rhodes and piano, and besides accompanying myself on piano, I chose guitars, cello and bass because those instruments intuitively love my voice in the right ways. They have the soft touch no matter how hard they hit. Mary Halvorson, who has a wildly creative sonic palette, recorded the American folk lullaby “The Little Horses” with me, and I do love that little song but we plow into it because my lullaby, being true to my life, isn’t about a sweet baby that falls asleep lovingly in your arms. It’s about a sweet baby who isn’t falling asleep. My baby is a brilliantly alive, self-determined person demanding the world of me in the middle of the night. That’s reality. So we play into that. Parenting isn’t for the meek and neither is music-making.

Jason and Alicia Moran

“Deep River” was recorded with and arranged by guitarist Brandon Ross. I derive my melody from the classic transcription of the slave song by the legendary composer Hall Johnson, actually my great-great maternal uncle. When voice becomes the water itself, and all the ripples in the water are there, all the bends, all the power, the responsiveness to the terrain. I want to be the water in that song, the muddiness AND the clarity. Nothing static. Nothing for technique’s sake alone. Same for “I Like The Sunrise,” which features Jason on Fender Rhodes, Brandon on guitar, and Tony Scherr on bass. I sing it from the idea of the cosmos, the view of the sun rising up from behind planet earth, as well as the Liberian sunrise on the horizon, as Duke Ellington wrote. But he’s talking about God and his music envelopes everything. So we go there big.

The HEAVY BLUE content–the love songs, lullabies, spirituals, standards–will feel familiar but the point of view is altered. A lot of my inspiration comes from being on the other side of things. YES records is all about orientation. Which way you’re facing.

Will this new Yes Records venue give you more opportunities to collaborate across the genres for which you both are most closely identified, and was that part of the motivation for building your own imprint?

Jason: Definitely. I kind of hint at this in some of my earlier recordings, most notably with Artist in Residence, which included artists Adrian Piper and Joan Jonas. To include their names with some relation to catalog was the goal, but also, I consider them as important to my development as Monk or [Jaki] Byard. I think the larger issue is about the type of scale and timeline we’d like to work in. Meaning, I can make a recording in 2 days, and release it a week later. For us, YES Records is essentially about insuring that Alicia and I document our work as we make it. I’m about 5 recordings behind right now, and i want to get squared up and also make new music as it gets completed. A way to build an archive, because we have shown no signs of slowing down. I’ll record a live solo piano recording in March and release it by April. The Bandwagon will get back into the studio in the Fall, and Alicia will record her Black Wall Street work in the Spring… slowly & quietly, but surely.

To hear Alicia Hall Moran’s new release – and the launch recording of Yes Records go to
Enter 6eds-y7q4

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Winter Jazzfest marathon coming January 13-17

Winter Jazzfest
Winter Jazzfest 2016
January 13-17

From the time George Wein and the Lorillards launched the Newport Jazz Festival in ‘54 and Jimmy Lyons hatched the Monterey Jazz Festival in ‘58, the whole idea of what constitutes such an event has metamorphosed into endless permutations. One thing is certain, any community worth its salt in the cultural destination universe absolutely must have at lease one annual jazz festival; it has become a measure of a community’s good taste.
evan christopher
On the other hand, there is no community in the culture universe quite like New York City, where there is no need for any measure of artistic seal of approval simply because practically every night in New York is a visual arts, classical music, theater, and film festival; and the same certainly holds true for jazz. So how does one go about crafting a jazz festival for the ultimate diverse community, not to mention one boasting all manner of venues, from prodigious green spaces and concert halls to literal holes in the wall – which ironically are often where one encounters the most vital artistic perspectives NYC has to offer?

The wise heads who developed the Winter Jazzfest, rather than reinvent the wheel, simply cobbled together multiple venues, ranging from modest auditoriums, to a house of worship, to the many varied club spaces that dot Greenwich Village; some of which regularly feature jazz and its extensions, others for whom jazz and its extensions simply fits their perspective on music. The big tent effect they established has worked in spades, to the point that WJF stands as a vital annual jazz touchstone in the Jazz Mecca.
Sharel Cassity
A key element in the producer’s savvy festival scheduling is its synergy with the concurrent staging of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) annual conference (January 15-19) at the Hilton, and the nascent Jazz Connect Conference (January 14/15) at St. Peter’s Church. WJF’s scheduling is particularly perceptive because both conferences are the province of thousands of multi-discipline presenters at APAP, and scores of jazz presenters at Jazz Connect. Prior to WJF, the APAP conference featured all manner of showcase performances across New York, events fostered by managers, agents, and artists eager for the attention of those who book and present the arts; still does, but now the performance universe during conference time is particularly robust from a jazz perspective, thanks to WJF.

WJF is a marathon, one that encourages either the purchase of a full-festival pass, or a measure of perseverance. That’s because the performances are presented in a dizzying array of venues, are generally 60 minutes in length, and are scheduled in tight proximity. It’s tempting to scan the WJF schedule, highlight your faves, and fantasize about easing from venue to venue. Audience beware – the great majority of these venues are tightly packed, often standing room only sardine style, and in fact some venues (like Judson Memorial Church) are purely stand-up. So the notion of hopping venue-to-venue to catch your faves is not exactly for the faint of heart.
Will Calhoun
After experiencing a degree of frustration with my first few WJF experiences, having mapped out what I thought was a tasty menu of possibilities only to be continually pressed up against some back wall with barely a sightline to the stage, never succeeding in finding a seat, overhearing the wise advice of a journalist colleague I adopted another tactic last January. Three of us on our WJF hang simply scoped out which venue had the tastiest menu, arrived early enough to cop front row seats (!), and camped out for the evening; typical WJF performance menus run from roughly 6:00pm until after midnight.

This year WJF offers its usual confounding array of aural treats (and isn’t that ultimately the point?), ranging from an array of restless explorers (from Vijay Iyer and Don Byron to Matana Roberts, Chris Speed and the endlessly Omniverse exploring Sun Ra Arkestra under 91-year old saxophonist Marshall Allen’s leadership), to varying 21st century Latin perspectives (try the Gregorio Uribe Big Band for some Cumbia, or Pedrito Martinez call to the saints, or perhaps Chris Washburne’s nouveau Acid Mambo Project), to adherents of the blues & swing tradition (Christian McBride, the prodigious New Orleans-based clarinetist Evan Christopher, or next great jazz piano ace Christian Sands). Drummer Will Calhoun’s tribute to Elvin Jones promises some paradiddle fireworks; bassist Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus sounds like massive fun, expect the unexpected from folks like the OGIB Quartet (Oliver Lake, Graham Haynes, Joe Fonda, Barry Altschul), and who knows from (promising) lights like altoist Sharel Cassity & Elektra, the newest Blue Note Records signing GoGo Penguins, or Bad Plus (drummer) Dave King‘s two assemblages, Trucking Company and Vector Families (hmmm). And believe me, that’s just a tiny sample size of the music available from WJF.
Chris Washburne
OK, so that’s largely the instrumental perspective – though there’s liable to be some singing going on in any of the above. But perhaps you’re one who needs some words with your music. WJF vocal performances run a broad spectrum, including the endlessly engaging Rene Marie, Nicole Henry, the sensational Revive Music project “Sarah Vaughan & Clifford Brown Reimagined”, to the ultimate cool, hi hop informed crooning of Jose James, to Charenee Wade’s impressive Gil Scott-Heron project. And did I mention the venerable record label ECM is hosting two evenings of its artists at The New School Tischman Auditorium? Whew… in fact double Whew! Let me stop here and direct you to for complete details. Be there, or be… Maybe I’ll see you somewhere Friday evening.

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DC JazzPrix accepting submissions

DC Jazz Prix
Inaugural DCJazzPrix Officially Launches
DC Jazz Festival’s new national competition now accepting applications;

Will recognize and support top rising jazz band talent

WASHINGTON – January 7, 2016 — The DC Jazz Festival® (DC JazzFest) – which recently announced the launch of its national jazz band competition, DCJazzPrix – has now issued a Call for Applications, live at Potential applicants will find guidelines, including eligibility, review criteria, terms, and digital submission requirements for the application, which will close on March 4 at 5 pm ET. The entry fee is $49 per band.

“The DCJazzPrix is unique in that it aims to identify and showcase emerging and exceptional jazz band talent from across the U.S.,” said Sunny Sumter, Executive Director “The event is designed to help launch and promote the careers of emerging jazz artists committed to sustained and creative band development and performance opportunities.”

Providing a unique professional performance and adjudication platform for jazz bands that is outside of the traditional academic or commercial competition arenas is at the core of the DCJazzPrix’s mission. The competition strives to provide an opportunity for applicants that most competitively address the stated review criteria.

Among the criteria for applying is that bands must be comprised of 2-9 members, with all of them currently residing in the United States or its territories. Each band member must be at least 18 years old, but not older than 40. Additional eligibility requirements include:

· Bands can combine any instrumentation including conventional jazz strings and winds formats and/or percussion, voice, and technology.

· Membership of the band may not change once the application is submitted.

· Each member is required to compete in Washington, DC, should the band be chosen as a semi-finalist.

· Applicant bands may be affiliated or housed within music school departments, or be categorized as “stand-alone/self-contained” and/or professionally emerging.

In addition to adding a bold new element to the DC Jazz Festival, the competition offers a tremendous exposure opportunity to perform at a national festival. The winner will also be awarded a $15,000 cash prize and a year-long association with the DC Jazz Festival to include: extensive publicity; business support and career navigation services; and a main stage 2017 DC Jazz Festival paid engagement.

Once the application process closes in March, a prestigious jury will evaluate eligible applications based on artistic excellence and artistic merit.

On April 15, 2016, three semi-finalists will be announced and invited to Washington, DC to participate in the DCJazzPrix Finals, in front of a main stage crowd at DC JazzFest at The Yards on Saturday, June 18.

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Chaka Khan brings the New Year in right

Chaka Khan
Chaka Khan
New Year’s Eve 2015
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Seeing Chaka Khan on the Kennedy Center bill for New Year’s Eve was instant magnetism. The most recent sonic evidence of her continued potency was provided by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington’s latest Mosaic incarnation, where Ms. Khan served as one of several guest singers. Recorded evidence of Chaka Khan’s current artistry has been scant over the last decade, consisting mainly of guest appearances and greatest hits compilations; upping the curiosity equation in anticipation of this evening.

On arrival at the Concert Hall, which was sold out in advance, easing into our seats amidst assorted New Year’s Eve revelers scurrying for the free party favors provided for the Kennedy Center’s annual New Year’s Eve after-party, all decked out to celebrate the close of ’15, we were greeted by Chaka herself wafting from the house system. A bit peculiar, most artists discourage if not outright prohibit their music being played in the house pre-concert. Shades of Chaka engaging “Round Midnight” and other jazz standards increased the curiosity factor for what was coming. Would it be Rufus-era Chaka, the almighty funk queen Khan, or some measure of her occasional forays with improvisers?

As her razor sharp band – two keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and three backup singers – eased in place with some prelude music, Ms. Khan floated in to a warm welcome, clad in sparkly shoulder-to-toe periwinkle blue, proud red mane engulfing her ageless face, she ripped off a tone setting dance groove. Much of her opening was spent dusting off her Rufus book, which never sounded dated, the true mark of a self-assured artist. As she essayed her set list, one had to be struck by how her songwriting has been a somewhat overlooked facet of her creativity. On this momentous evening that side of Chaka Khan’s book produced a marvelous retrospective set.

But it was the abundant gifts of her prodigious vocal instrument that carried the day, the Holy Ghost still such a constant presence in those pipes, particularly in her upper middle register. Humor arrived in songs like “Pack the Bags,” a song immortalizing her first husband. Several of her songs were autobiographical, including “Troubled Little Angel,“ which helped her deal with depression at certain junctures. Later she sang an especially touching song dedicated to autism, inspired by an autistic nephew and her subsequent work on behalf of the condition.

About 70 minutes into her set, Khan eased offstage promising to be “back in a few.” Although the band kept playing throughout this break, the audience took it as their cue to get up and stretch, hit the facilities, grab some party favors, check their devices and generally treat this as intermission. The band soldiered on, business as usual for jobbing musicians I suppose, but a bit incongruous nonetheless.

Khan’s return superbly capped off this greatest hits night, as she eased back to the spotlight clad in billowing black cape, black-on-black head to toe. “My Funny Valentine” gave way to a succession of her most memorable moments, including “Sweet Thing,” “Tell Me Something Good,” “To The Fire,” and her empowering anthem “I’m Every Woman,” which lifted the sisters out of their seats, brothers quickly following suit throughout the diverse audience. It was a superb greatest hits sort of night, without a hint of the kind of cloying nostalgia such seasoned artists often resort to, literally coasting on a sea of familiarity. Chaka Khan was far from that scene, proving to be a timeless powerhouse and a splendid New Year’s Eve vocal curator for her completely thrilled Kennedy Center audience.

— Willard Jenkins

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2015 WPFW Jazz Programmer’s Poll

When I arrived in DC in ’89 to accept a position at the former National Jazz Service Organization, Washington was blessed with an abundance of jazz radio, particularly by comparison to most markets. Back then there was WDCU “Jazz 90” and WPFW 89.3 FM. Few markets in the world could boast of one public and one community radio station whose majority music mandate was jazz. Those radio riches only lasted a few more years as the University of the District of Columbia, which held the license and served as home for WDCU, eventually abdicated its throne and caved in to university fiscal shorts, foolishly and myopically selling off its frequency to CSPan Radio.

Meanwhile I had begun what has been a very fruitful 26-year programming relationship with WPFW 89.3 FM. Starting with a long stint as “Friday Drivetime Jazz” host, later migrating to a 5am-8am slot on Thursdays, and my current 10pm-midnight Wednesday “Night Jazz” post. For those not familiar, WPFW is part of the perpetually embattled Pacifica Network of stations, the last outpost of left-leaning radio in America. WPFW in recent years has adopted the operating credo of “Jazz and Justice Radio,” owing to its provocative mix of peace & justice news, talk, and hard-hitting information programming, and the continued provenance of jazz as the core of a music mix that also includes a M-F noontime blues hour, a quite popular old school R&B and Caribbean music mix on Saturdays, and a weekend liberation-oriented hip hop collective. Luckily for WPFW, when WDCU went the news/talk route under CSPan’s stewardship, the best & brightest of its former jazz programmers migrated over to WPFW, including Candy Shannon, Faunee Williams, Tim Masters, and the venerable Rusty Hassan, DC’s reigning jazz radio veteran.

Jazz programming on WPFW is in the main a highly popular Sunday strip 9am-6pm; M-F 5am-8am, and 7pm throughout most nights, with certain after-midnight programmers striving for an eclectic mix with jazz at its core. And in this day and age that is indeed a robust menu of jazz programming. Check for complete scheduling information, our “listen live” streaming service, and running playlists during music programming.

Joining the year-end parade of “Best Of” listings, we recently conducted the 2015 WPFW Jazz Programmer’s Poll, which asked programmers to list their picks for the top ten new releases of 2015, as well as their personal picks for their three favorite live jazz performance experiences during the year. Clearly the results prove out the eclectic, free form nature of WPFW, jazz programming not governed by a station playlist; jazz programming governed purely by our volunteer programmers’ individual tastes. Each WPFW programmer has a weekly stint, generally in the 2-3 hour range, and all program their own shows from their personal record collections. I doubt seriously if jazz programming anywhere in the U.S. is more eclectic than is reflected in the results of our 2015 WPFW Jazz Programmer’s Poll.

WPFW 2015 Jazz Programmer’s Poll

(Artist/Album title/Label)
Cecile McLorin Salvant, For One To Love, Mack Avenue
Tri-C JazzFest 2013 Photos by Jeff Forman Tri-C JazzFest 2013 Photos by Jeff Forman

Heads of State (Gary Bartz/Larry Willis/Buster Williams/Al Foster), Search for Peace, Smoke Sessions

Kamasi Washington, The Epic, Brainfeeder

Jack DeJohnette, Made in Chicago, ECM

Steve Coleman, Synovial Joints, Pi

Joe Locke, Love is a Pendulum, Motema

Maria Schneider, The Thompson Fields, ArtistsShare

Vijay Iyer, Break Stuff, ECM

Danilo Perez/John Patitucci/Brian Blade, Children of the Light, Mack Avenue

Fred Hersch, Solo, Palmetto

Jose James, Yesterday I Had the Blues, Blue Note
Tomeka Reid Quartet, Thirsty Ear
Nicole Mitchell/Tomeka Reid/Mike Reed, Artifacts, 482 Music
Sons of Kemet, Lest We Forget What We Came Here For, Naim
The Avant-Age Garde, Heroes Are Gang Leaders, CD Baby
Dave Douglas, Brazen Heart, Greenleaf
Makaya McCraven, In The Moment, International Anthem
Weather Report, The Legendary Live Tapes 1978-1981, Legacy
John Scofield, Past Present, Impulse!
Luciana Souza, Speaking in Tongues, Sunnyside
Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls. ACT
Aaron Diehl, Continuum, Mack Avenue
Satoka Fuji Tobiro, Yamiyo Ni Karasu, Libra
Lionel Loueke, Gaia, Blue Note
Amina Figarova, Blue Whisper, In + Out
Chris Potter Underground Orchestra, Imaginary Cities, ECM
William Parker, For Those Who Are Still, AUM Fidelity
Jamal Moore & Organix Trio, Ancestral Communion, Ankh Djed
Henry Threadgill, In for a Penny, In for a Pound, Pi
Darius Jones, Le Bebe de Brigette, AUM Fidelity
Lizz Wright, Freedom & Surrender, Concord
Charenee Wade, The Offering-The Music of Gil Scott-Heron, Motema
Elijah Jamal Balbed, Lessons from the Streets, EJB
Christian McBride Trio, Live at the Village Vanguard, Mack Avenue
Robert Glasper Trio, Covered, Blue Note
Chris Washburne & The Syotos Band, Low Ridin’, Zoho
Abbey Lincoln, Sophisticated Abbey, HighNote
Ben Williams, Coming of Age, Concord
Harold Mabern, Afro Blue, Smoke Sessions
David S. Ware & Apogee, Birth of a Being, AUM Fidelity
Orrin Evans, The Evolution of Oneself, Smoke Sessions
George Cables, In Good Company, HighNote
Matthew Shipp, The Conduct of Jazz, Thirsty Ear
Jason Miles/Ingrid Jensen, Kind of New, Whaling City
Jeremy Pelt, Tales Musings and Other Reveries
Ron Carter, My Personal Songbook, WDR
Marshall Gilkes & the WDR Big Band, Koln, WDR
Terri Lyne Carrington, Mosaic, Concord
Stanley Jordan & Kevin Eubanks, Duets, Mack Avenue
Snarky Puppy, Sylvia, Impulse!/UMC
Charles Lloyd, Wild Man Dance, Blue Note
SF Jazz Collective, Live at SF Jazz Center, SF Jazz
Albert “Tootie” Heath/Ethan Iverson/Ben Street, Philadelphia Beat, Sunnyside
Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Inner Dialogue, Musiq
Najee, You Me and Forever, Shanachie

Kamasi Washington (Howard Theatre)
Ernest Dawkins Orchestra (CapitalBop Loft Jazz/DC Jazz Festival)

Nicole Mitchell/Tomeka Reid/Mike Reed (CapitalBop Loft Jazz/DC Jazz Festival)
Tomeka Reid Quartet (Transparent Productions/Bohemian Caverns)
The Cookers (Historic Synagogue Sixth & I/DC Jazz Festival)
Tenor Summit (Paul Carr/Craig Handy/Marcus Strickland/Mid Atlantic Jazz Fest)
Jamal Moore and Organix Trio (CapitalBop Loft Jazz/DC Jazz Festival)
Andrew White (Blues Alley)
Jack DeJohnette (the Hamilton/DC Jazz Festival)
Cassandra Wilson (Kennedy Center)
Revive: Clifford Brown/Sarah Vaughan Reimagined (Kennedy Center)
Jason Moran Finding a Line: Skateboarding, Music and Media (Kennedy Center)
Strickland Brothers (Kennedy Center)
Cecile McLorin Salvant (Historic Synagogue Sixth & I)
Sean Jones (Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival)

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