The Independent Ear

Ain’t But a Few of Us… on the publishing side as well

The number of black publication efforts on behalf of jazz has been quite modest when one considers the number of jazz publications in the aggregate sense. Currently the most notable – and noble – effort in that regard is Jo Ann Cheatham’s valiant, virtually one-woman effort at continuing to publish her Pure Jazz magazine out of Brooklyn. One recalls such valiant efforts as The Soul & Jazz Record back in the 70s. The 70s and 80s also saw Jim Harrison’s extensive tabloid, the Jazz Spotlite News with its decidedly New York-centric gaze, or the largely regional orientation of Strictly Jazz coming from Atlanta in the early 90s, and Be-Bop And Beyond in the late 80s. Full confession, this writer is most familiar with those publications from both a reader and an eager contributor’s viewpoint.

In the 90s, at the encouragement of the late KPFA (the Pacifica network’s Berkeley, CA flagship station) programmer Doug Edwards and the magazine’s publisher Haybert Houston, I became a regular contributor to Houston’s Bay Area based magazine, Jazz Now. For the most part our ongoing Ain’t But a Few of Us dialogues have focused on the relatively spare number of African American jazz writers, from freelancers to columnists, regular contributors, and authors. An exception was our dialogue with Jo Ann Cheatham, which focused primarily on her Pure Jazz magazine, an installment which will post later this summer. In the meantime I recently re-connected with Haybert Houston by telephone for the following dialogue on the subject of his decidedly grassroots – in every sense of that term! – efforts at publishing Jazz Now, a dialogue which absolutely revealed yet another side of the Ain’t But a Few of Us coin.

Jazz Now

HAYBERT HOUSTON (Jazz Now magazine founder)

Independent Ear: When did you start Jazz Now magazine?

Haybert Houston: I started the magazine in May of 1991. It was just [wife] Stella and I and we actually started working towards publishing the magazine in 1987.

IE: What happened in the ensuing years?

HH: The print edition was first [published] in May of 1991. In 1994 we introduced the first interactive jazz magazine on the internet. We were the first, and it ran simultaneously with the print edition until the print edition stopped in March 2000. The electronic edition continued until ’06. We were actually publishing from ’91 to 2006.

IE: What was your original motivation for beginning the magazine?

HH: I looked around at the jazz magazines we had, and you know DownBeat was the model because it had been around for so long. And what I found was the magazines like JazzTimes and even DownBeat, they talked about the big names all the time; they talked about the names that people all over the world would recognize, the “leaders” of the jazz world. But I knew – just from being here in the [SF] Bay Area – there were millions of jazz musicians making a contribution to the art form that were not being recognized and some of them were older than DownBeat!

IE: In addition to closing that disparity was there a desire on your part to address any racial or cultural disparities in jazz magazine publishing?

HH: I knew that black [musicians] were making major, major contributions to the art form, and a lot of these people… like Robert Porter for example, a trumpeter here in the Bay Area who was a very active organizer of all kinds of musicians in general, and this guy had never been recognized by anybody outside of our area, and he was a black man. I knew his chances of getting in DownBeat or JazzTImes was almost nil; that would never happen no matter what he contributed. So the racial issue was very strong.

I never told anybody [writers] to highlight black people, but I was looking at the cultural contributions, as a publisher, and I wanted to remind the people of that – that these were the people laying the ground work who had made the major contributions and were heads of organizations throughout the country, and the people hadn’t heard of the organizations let alone the musicians.

IE: In addition to feeling that certain musicians’ contributions had been underserved in the jazz media, you felt compelled by the fact that certain black musicians contributions had been ignored?

HH: Exactly! And that was obvious to anybody that you talked to. If you talked to people around the world about that – just asking them who’s making jazz contributions in their area – 99.9% of those people were black. But you had to be a Monterey Jazz Festival performer, or something along those lines, in order for you to get mentioned [in the mainstream jazz publications].

IE: Before you started the magazine, had you written about jazz previously?

HH: No, I had not written anything, so we were real amateurs and that was very difficult, but we managed.

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IE: So how did a couple like you and Stella, who had no particular journalistic experience, how did you motivate yourselves to develop a magazine?

IE: When I decided to go for it I started looking for basic ways to publish a magazine. We’ve got colleges and universities all over the world, but I could not find a thing about what you do to publish a magazine; there were no instructions anywhere, nothing that said if you want to publish a magazine this is what you do, I couldn’t find that [information] anywhere. So I had to go from scratch, to figure out how to publish. And not only that, at the time we started in 1991 we were in a transition period, the world was moving from the pre-computer stage to everything going to desktop [publishing].

So we went to the College of Alameda, took a course in computer technology. After we learned how to use the computer I told the instructor what we wanted to do, I told him the reason we were there was because I was planning to publish a magazine. I asked him what did he suggest I do using the computer sciences and equipment? He said, the first thing I needed to do was start on Apple, to use MacIntosh. So I went back to college to Laney, which is here in Oakland, and I took desktop publishing on Apple MacIntosh. We bought the equipment and we were off and running. We were setting ouR own rules, but I got a lot of help.

I reached out to everybody I knew. My cousin lives in Chicago and I knew that Johnson Publications was there in Chicago and we met with a lady there. I told her what I was gonna do and asked for her help. She suggested that I contact Playboy, because Playboy was the master of magazine distribution. I knew that they distributed their own magazine, but they had a network that distributed most magazines. So that’s how I got the magazine distribution, and it was so helpful because not only did [Playboy] get the magazine out in this country but they hooked me up with Tower Records, which was worldwide and Tower got my magazine in Taiwan and other places that there was no way I could have gotten the magazine otherwise. That’s how – seeking and asking and begging for help – I managed to do that, and we took off.

IE: At its peak what were Jazz Now’s publishing numbers?

HH: They were not where I felt they should have been, but they were sufficient to get us around the world. We had about 20,000 subscribers; by the time we got to that point the internet was taking off and I can’t remember how we tracked the internet numbers, which was a very big issue also.

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IE: How did you go about attracting subscribers?

HH: In the various areas that we covered, I would ask people where did they purchase their magazines, where do you get DownBeat, etc. to find out how those people were connected to the jazz world. And we had questionnaires in the early editions that helped a bit, but it was mostly word of mouth that helped with Jazz Now.

IE: Were you aware at the time that you were the only African American publishing a monthly jazz magazine?

HH: I wasn’t when I started; I kept hearing that, but I wasn’t aware because I had no way of checking that out and I didn’t want to make that claim and have somebody say ‘oh, I’ve been publishing my little newsletter for a hundred years…’ So we never made that claim. Others made that claim for me very often, but I never made that claim because I couldn’t verify it.

IE: How did you go about recruiting writers for the magazine?

HH: I’ll give you an example. I went to most of the jazz shows in my area and there was a lady that I would see at every one of those events. She was a white lady who would be sitting up front, very clean, very sharp, blond hair with a bun in the back looking very conservative. But she was nodding her head with all the music, so I thought ‘this lady is really into the music, she’s always here.’ I found out who she was and I talked with her and I found out that she had been taking pictures at all these different events, so I asked her had she ever considered writing. She said ‘no, I’ve never thought about writing [about the music], this is just for me.’ I finally convinced her. Then I found out about people in the [jazz] community and asked if they knew of anybody writing about jazz and whether they could recommend anybody, and some people would, but it was just kind of a hit & miss, word of mouth thing, it was very basic, we didn’t have headhunters or anything like that.

IE: Did you find in your early experience starting this magazine, in trying to find writers, did you find that there were a number of African Americans writing about jazz?

HH: No, I didn’t find that there were a lot, but I did find some and some of the [black writers] that were writing about it didn’t think that we would last, so they were not interested. So I would have to work really hard to convince somebody that I wanted to write for the magazine. Doug Edwards, a radio broadcaster at KPFA, really helped me a lot; in fact he was with the magazine right up until he died. One of the first articles that we published was about Pearl – of Jazz at Pearls club in San Francisco… I got this guy, a young black guy, to do that article on Pearl for the first issue, and I think he charged me something like $600, which was way more than I could afford, but I had no way of finding out how much people were getting paid until I met with that woman at Ebony.

So the guy over-charged me and I thought ‘wow, I’ve gotta find a better way to do this.’ Doug Edwards told me to tell people that we were a poor magazine, that we would pay them $25 an article; I did that and people agreed because most of the people wanted to write and it wasn’t really about the money.

IE: So as soon as you were able to you did pay writers?

HH: Oh yeah, I paid writers from that time forward, but I just couldn’t pay them very much. I paid them $25 an article and they were happy with that. I was surprised that they were happy with that because for $25 you can’t buy a pack of cigarettes!

Jazz Now2

IE: Were you able to attract other black writers to the magazine?

HH: Yes I was and I was so pleased with that. We attracted some really good writers; I think of Elizabeth Goodwin, who was writing for somebody else before I got her. She was a very conservative young woman, but very smart and articulate and had some writing experience. She did a number of interviews throughout the history of the magazine. When I would find somebody that was a writer, I would try to convince them to write for us and in most cases they would.

IE: Did you find an openness, as far as black writers being willing to contribute because of who you were as far as publishing this magazine?

HH: Yes, I was happy about that. A lot of [black writers] said ‘I see where you’re going, don’t worry about trying to pay me,’ and that was very helpful, that made me feel good that I was getting some help. It was very difficult to do what we were doing because #1 I had to pay the printer and I did. I finally got this guy who was going to generate some revenue through advertising and that lasted for a few years but it never really generated enough to cover the cost, so it was really hard to get the advertising support that the magazine demanded and required. So it was hard, but I got a lot of help, and sometimes individuals would give me money for the magazine.

IE: Were these donors black people?

HH: These were primarily black people, but some of them were white. I worked for a company called United States Leasing International. The guy I worked for in that organization, who was a vice president, he gave me about $9,000 [for the magazine], which was just wonderful.

IE: Before you started Jazz Now magazine were you at all aware that there were few African Americans writing about jazz?

HH: I didn’t know who they were, I knew that there had to have been [black writers] but I couldn’t identify anybody. These [black writers] would be introduced to me or referred to me, but I didn’t know a lot of jazz writers at that time.

IE: Why do you suppose its always been such a glaring disparity where you have so many black musicians contributing to the music but so few black people writing about it and black folks in the media in general dealing with the music?

HH: If you look at the publishing industry as a whole, I think that’s where the disparity arises; that’s why I went to Ebony because they had been publishing for years, and they helped me so much. I just chose to go to where I knew there were black writers because I didn’t know of black jazz writers, not just writers but publishers. She didn’t make too many writer recommendations to me, but she helped me in many other ways.

I didn’t know how to find black writers unless they came to me. After the magazine came out, black writers would come to me saying they wanted to write. Most of our writers were new people in the industry who hadn’t written for magazines before but they wanted to and they wanted to make a contribution, or they knew something. Like that lady I mentioned, I would recruit them based on what I thought they could do.

IE: As you sought to provide coverage to underserved jazz musicians, did you think the dearth of African American jazz writers contributed to how the music was covered?

HH: My first answer to that is no, because those writers that were writing on jazz at that time – editors decide what goes in and what does not – a lot of writers had run into [reluctant editors]. They would submit articles and they would get turned down, unless they were huge names. Editors would tell writers that their writing about Joe Blow from Wilson Creek, nobody’s going to buy the magazine, and the writers would tell me about that!

IE: So once you got into publishing, those issues that motivated you as far as your feeling so many contributing jazz musicians were not getting magazine coverage, did it ever occur to you that the way the music was covered had anything to do with the fact that there weren’t a lot of black writers covering the music?

HH: Without a doubt, very strongly! The writers told me that, and when I say the writers I’m only talking about professional writers. Some of them, they wouldn’t even bother, saying ‘no man, I can’t tie up my energies in something that isn’t going to go anywhere [meaning Jazz Now]. That was shocking and it made it very difficult, but that’s what I was trying to overcome, to change all of that. I felt that to a degree we did gather some recognition and we did change some of that. We had some [black] writers that started with me, they grew up with me, and then they started to go over to other magazines and radio broadcasting but they always kept us in mind and knew that [Jazz Now] was where they came from.

Jazz Now1

IE: So you got a sense that to a certain degree Jazz Now served as a bit of an incubator?

HH: Oh absolutely, I could see it. We made a difference in the publishing world, I could see that, and I could hear that people recognized what we were trying to do, and we got a lot of support along those lines.

IE: What difference do you feel Jazz Now made?

HH: There was an organization in Germany, the Jazz Institute [in Darmstadt], and this guy was so thrilled that I started the magazine that he helped in any way he could. I had a relationship with him and he told me about the struggle that he had, but he was very, very helpful to me. I got a lot of information from them and also learned a lot.

IE: What is your sense of the indifference of so many African American publications towards jazz music, despite the historic origins of the music?

HH: Not everybody appreciates the art form for what it has contributed. A lot of black folks were church-oriented and the way jazz was originally introduced, where it played out, at one point jazz was looked down upon as a dirty music, it was thought of as just bawdy house music. I’m not sure why we didn’t have more coverage in black publications.

IE: As you continued to cover the music in Jazz Now, what were some of your most rewarding encounters?

HH: When we would get recognition from places like the Monterey Jazz Festival. I got to know those people really well, they supported us and would give us heads-up notice about whatever was going on, and asked us to cover it and go to their shows. From most of the jazz community we were welcomed.

IE: Not only were you the rare African American publishing a jazz magazine, but you were rare geographically [California-base] because there weren’t a lot of jazz publications coming out of the West.

HH: That’s true.

IE: Was that also part of your motivation for publishing?

HH: Oh yes it was. You might remember, the magazine used to say California Jazz Now, the West Coast jazz world, and that was because we knew there was no jazz magazine out here. DownBeat was in [Chicago} and any coverage of the guys in the West was limited.

IE: Did you find a sense of openness from black musicians wanting to assist or be more open to your publishing venture?

HH: I’m happy to say that I did find that. There was a bass player here named Harley White who had an organization that recognized Jazz Now many times. Harley White played bass for Earl “Fatha” Hines. His organization was called Jazz Preservation Society and he gave me an award. His recording secretary was Ed Kelly, one of the most admired piano players on this side of the country, he’s no longer with us but he was great.

IE: So there was some expression of pride amongst black people in the music for the fact that you were doing this.

HH: Yes, there was, and they knew what a struggle it was. People in the jazz community tried to support Jazz Now as best they could.

IE: As you look back on what you were able to achieve with the magazine, what would you say about the whole experience?

HH: It was a very enlightening and rewarding experience, and we’re not talking monetary rewards here. But it was very rewarding; I got to find out that what I’d imagined was true – and that is that there are some truly remarkable musicians who weren’t being covered, and when we got somebody to cover them they were elated to know that we were around – and I’m talking about white musicians in Sweden, or white musicians in Australia – it wasn’t just the black musicians that recognized what we were doing about accentuating those musicians who had been around but had gotten no recognition. People really thought that was a great idea; it never turned around monetarily but we got a lot of praise.

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IE: What was your level of commercial success, in sustaining the magazine financially?

HH: We never publicized this and never talked about it at all – but at one point Stella and I had to declare bankruptcy because I was going overboard in my support and I wasn’t getting the kind of return in order to make it viable. So it was never really a monetary success, most of the time it maintained its own, but then there was a time when it was very, very difficult.

IE: At what point did you evolve Jazz Now into purely an online presence?

HH: When we first got into the 20,000 subscriber range it became much more difficult to publish hard copy, so we reverted to the electronic issue, which we had going at the same time as the [hard copy issue], but the printed issue required a lot of time and money.

IE: Did you say you were the first jazz magazine to publish online?

HH: Yes, we were.

IE: How was it that you became an early adapter to what is now common practice?

HH: I found out that no matter what medium I was using, where I was lacking was a professional advertising person who knew how to generate the revenue. One time my editor, Bob Tate, said ‘you need to pay the advertising guys more. When he made that statement I knew that he didn’t know any more . The advertising guy was supposed to generate the revenue for [Bob] to get paid and he didn’t understand that.

IE: Did you have advertising in your online publication?

HH: Oh yes, I had ads there, and subscriptions, and we had a catalogue of releases there and we would get the musicians to advertise their releases. That helped a lot but not enough to sustain the magazine. It made me feel so good to publish the magazine, to know that I had done something for the art form; I would do it again at the drop of a hat.

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Celebrating Harlem & U Street jazz… with a side order of go-go

The historic Harlem community of New York City and U Street of Washington, DC are two of the most storied crossroads of the black experience in America. And there is more than a little shared history and more than a few common personalities that link the two communities. That was precisely the sentiment of Houston-born Jason Moran, the 20+ year Harlem resident pianist-composer and artistic advisor to jazz at the Kennedy Center. Through his sharp curatorial mind, the Kennedy Center and the Apollo Theatre have partnered for this Mother’s Day weekend of what are bound to be two exceptional nights of music. Yes, you read that right… in this age of artistic collaboration, a partnership between the Apollo and the Kennedy Center!

Tonight, Saturday, May 9 this richly promising program – curated by Moran and co-music directed by he and DC-native pianist Marc Cary (who’ll bring the go-go element, along with several vets of the form) – launches at the Apollo Theatre. The following night, Sunday, May 10 (and what a Mother’s Day gift this could be!) the entire caravan will touch down at the Kennedy Center for a free program at 6:00pm on the Millennium Stage and a ticketed blow-out upstairs on the Terrace level in the Crossroads Club.

I was honored to have been commissioned by the Apollo to do an onstage interview with Moran some weeks back at the Apollo Cafe, and subsequently write the program notes for both venues. For those who cannot make either evening, the program notes are here courtesy of the Independent Ear. Hopefully these notes shed some light on the clear artistic connections between Harlem and U Street. Harlem has historically been the more celebrated and well-chronicled of these two crossroads of black America. An excellent source of further illustration of the glories of DC’s U Street environs can be found in the book Washington’s U Street (A biography) by Blair Ruble (Woodrow Wilson Center Press/The Johns Hopkins University Press).

Apollo

Celebrating the rich Harlem & U Street Jazz traditions
By Willard Jenkins

The Harlem Nights/U Street Lights project – a collaboration of the Apollo Theater and the Kennedy Center – represents a beautiful synergy. This project being curated by pianist-composer Jason Moran, a Harlem resident and Artistic Advisor for Jazz at the Kennedy Center is apropos on many levels. There is such a rich history of interchange between these two crossroads of African American history that enriches this presentation in myriad respects. The simpatico between these two communities – Harlem and DC’s U Street corridor – represents linkages dating back to the early 20th century.

The Apollo evening, Saturday, May 9, which will be followed on Sunday, May 10 at the Kennedy Center, is part of the historic 81-year old theater’s annual Harlem Jazz Shrines partnership with Harlem Stage, Jazzmobile, and Columbia University. This celebration of venues and crossroads important to the development of jazz music recognizes the deep jazz history of the Harlem community. The Harlem/U Street links, which include the legendary “chittlin’ circuit” connections between the Apollo Theater and DC’s Howard Theatre, cut across African American history beyond the music.

The Harlem Renaissance was the socio-cultural, artistic flowering that ignited Harlem and the black world from the end of World War 1 to the mid-1930s. That fabled period was a creative hothouse for a legion of black men and women of arts & letters. This era and beyond also saw the development of both the Harlem and U Street communities as essential centers of jazz advancements, including the fabled Harlem stride piano sounds of Fats Waller, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and DC native son Duke Ellington.
Harlem crossroads
Alain Locke, the first African American Rhodes scholar, in 1912 took an assistant professorship at Howard University, which looms a stone’s throw north of the U Street corridor in the Shaw neighborhood of DC. It was Locke, along with literary artists Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, and Horace Gregory who plotted the Harlem Renaissance in Shaw environs around Howard. Other leading figures of that cultural revolution included poet Angelika Grimke, a DC public school teacher, and Howard University librarian Edward Christopher Williams, who had written critical, anonymous screeds detailing the foibles of DC’s “talented tenth” and their exclusive community around U Street.

The U Street community, which thrived across the 20s, 30s and 40s as a center of black life in DC, grew such a bustling nightlife that it was bestowed the grand sobriquet “Black Broadway” during the period, frequented by a diverse cross-section of the populace. Much like Harlem, U Street is where all of DC’s first-class black entertainment – whether of the theatrical variety, or that found in cabarets and nightclubs – found welcome stages and vibrant audiences, from the Howard, Dunbar, Republic and Lincoln theaters, to the Lincoln Colonnade (located in the lower level of the Lincoln Theater), and the Crystal Caverns. The Lincoln Colonnade, along with the Scottish Rite Temple down on R St., and the Murray Palace Casino were the home of DC’s happy feet, much akin to the high times of the Savoy Ballroom. However, like Harlem, one need only venture a block or two away from the U Street highlife to experience the deprivation of scant opportunity and sheer poverty. High times on U Street abruptly gave way to urban flight, boarded-up storefronts and decay following the outrage and insurrection that filled U Street in reaction to Martin Luther King’s 1968 assassination.

Proto jazz pioneer bandleader James Reese Europe, born in Mobile, AL in 1881, moved with his family to DC at age 10, attending public school and beginning his music lessons in the city. Towards the end of 1904 he relocated to New York. There he founded the Clef Club, a precursor to the black musicians union locals. In 1917 Europe organized the 369th Infantry Regiment military band for the war effort, a band that became known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.” Post-war many of the Harlem Hellfighters, black men from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, continued their careers in Harlem. Members of that band included composer-lyricist and drum major Noble Sissle and pianist Eubie Blake, who together produced Broadway’s first African American musical, “Shuffle Along.” Many other veterans of Europe’s campaign became regulars at Harlem’s swing & dance shrine the Savoy Ballroom.
U Street
HISTORIC U STREET

The U Street entertainment hub, the fabled Howard Theatre, which preceded the Apollo by 23 years, staged plays by Alain Locke’s Howard University Players. Duke Ellington, who became one of the jazz kings of Harlem when he relocated to New York, made some of his earliest appearances as leader of his Serenaders at Howard Theatre band competitions. In 1923 young Ellington made the move to New York City on the advice of Fats Waller, along with banjoist Elmer Snowden’s Washingtonians band. Not long after the move the band grew restless over scarcity of gigs, ousted Snowden and installed Duke as their leader.
Howard Theater then
THE HOWARD THEATER THEN
Howard Theater now
THE HOWARD THEATER NOW

Among the Washingtonians band members who also made the move from the U Street highlife to New York were saxophonist Otto “Toby” Hardwick, Ellington’s original drummer, Sonny Greer, who had played in the Howard Theatre Orchestra before joining Duke in 1919, and trumpeter Arthur Whetsol; all were part of Duke’s first New York recording, for the Victor label. Eventually Duke settled in Harlem’s fabled “Sugar Hill,” After establishing his band and sound in New York, the Duke Ellington Orchestra became king of the historic Harlem shrine at the corner of Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street, the Cotton Club. Another who made a similar move, only from the clubs of Harlem to the U Street hothouse in 1935, was New Orleans self-designated “inventor” of jazz, pianist Jelly Roll Morton. Morton established residence at the Jungle Inn at 1211 U Street.

In later years, post-Harlem Renaissance and U Street’s 1930s-40s Black Broadway heydays, DC and Harlem musicians regularly traded licks and cut heads at such uptown modern jazz shrines as Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s Uptown House, and U Street’s Club Crystal Cavern, which later became the Bohemian Caverns. These included the erudite pianist Dr. Billy Taylor, DC native, Harlem broadcaster, founder of Harlem’s longest-enduring jazz institution Jazzmobile, and the catalyst behind Jazz at the Kennedy Center. Bohemian Caverns, thriving today as U Street’s jazz pillar was, in its Crystal Caverns days, home to many of the same artists who brought the modern jazz sounds to the Apollo stage, including Ramsey Lewis, Cannonball Adderley, Les McCann, Nancy Wilson, Oscar Brown, Jr., Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.

Fast forward to 2015 and the vibrant Harlem Nights/U Street Lights and its brilliant cast of artists and we find further synergy, with Harlemites, Harlem transplants (including the curator and the music director), artists who’ve graced Harlem and U Street stages, and some of DC’s finest. For project curator Jason Moran, that relationship begins with two of what he characterizes as “pivotal pianists: Duke Ellington and his relationship between DC and Harlem, Billy Taylor and his relationship between DC and especially [his founding] Jazzmobile [as] a way to keep the music in the “community”, and now with Marc Cary and Ben Williams being in Harlem [while] continuing to represent their relative DC generations. These [Harlem and U Street] neighborhoods still strive to keep the music embedded in the community. So why not put together some of the great musicians from the local scenes in DC and Harlem, and think about our sonic histories,” Moran muses. “It’s really a party about two neighborhoods, and how the music helps us tell these stories.”
U Street Duke
COURTESY OF THIS MURAL THE DISTINCTIVE VISAGE OF DUKE ELLINGTON IS A PERMANENT FIXTURE ON U STREET

Music director, pianist-keyboardist Marc Cary, will bring the distinctive funk dynamic of go-go rhythms to the project. A Duke Ellington School for the Arts grad, Cary grew up playing on DC’s go-go scene, a sound so ubiquitous in mid-70s through 80s Washington that you could hear it from dancehalls and clubs in DC’s black community, to buskers regaling Metro stations. Cary will honor that sound and the late, esteemed DC bandleader Chuck Brown, the Godfather of go-go. “Chuck Brown taught us jazz songs through go-go music,” as Marc tells it. “Brown educated an entire generation of audience members through his choice of jazz standards,” says Moran, standards into which Brown injected new energy through go-go rhythms. In addition to Cary, the go-go tradition will be royally represented by two of the rhythm kings of that sound – hand drummer Milton “Go Go Mickey” Freeman, and drummer Kenneth “Kwick” Gross.

A born and raised Harlemite, saxophonist Bill Saxton, known as “Harlem’s Jazz King,” is proprietor of Bill’s Place, located in a former speakeasy on “Swing Street,” a stretch of 133rd Street between Lenox and Seventh Avenues. What is now Bill’s Place was once a nightlife haunt of Ellington, Fats Waller, and Langston Hughes, dating back to the Harlem Renaissance. Another saxophonist on the program is DC native Brian Settles. An Ellington School grad, Settles studied in NYC at the New School as well as at Howard, and is currently one of Washington’s most advanced players.

Harlem Nights/U Street Lights vocalists include Howard University’s renowned Afro Blue; Queen Esther, who has lately been featured at the refurbished Minton’s; and Brianna Thomas. Ms. Thomas won the Jazzmobile Competition and was a Betty Carter Jazz Ahead student at the Kennedy Center.

Duke Ellington School grads trumpeter Donvonte McCoy and bassist Ben Williams, will join seasoned pianist Bertha Hope – whose late husband Elmo Hope caressed the ivories in Harlem shrines – pianist Gerald Clayton, saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, who crosses freely between jazz, hip hop and neo soul, pianist Federico Pena, and special guest trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Rounding out this auspicious cast on drums is NEA Jazz Master and DC native Jimmy Cobb in what promises to be the jazz weekend of the season!

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Femi on Jazz

Femi

If you’ve been keeping up you know that one of the upcoming (June 10-16) DC Jazz Festival highlight evenings is certain to be Saturday, June 13. On that evening, at the beautiful riverfront park known as the Yards, in the Navy Yard area adjacent to National’s Park, DCJF will present a highly anticipated quadruple bill of Common, Esperanza Spalding, Femi Kuti & the Positive Force, and saxophonist Marshall Keys‘ band. Our intrepid DCJF social media coordinator (and proprietor of Jazzcorner.com), Lois Gilbert, captured the following impressions on jazz from Femi Kuti (son of the late, great king of Afro-funk and erstwhile Broadway show subject Fela Kuti):

“Jazz was the successful revolution that finally brought about change of freedom and respect for African Americans and AFRICA. Jazz was [a] formidable weapon that showed incredible dexterity and improvisation that showed the world boundless possibilities the human race could achieve. Not just through music, Jazz inspired all sectors of professionalism consciously and unconsciously that spread all over the world.”
– Femi Kuti, March 2015

WWW.DCJAZZFEST.ORG

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NEAJM postscript & DCJF Jazz in the ‘Hoods

A Grand Night for Mastery
The annual National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters awards concert is always a grand night on the annual jazz calendar. Peculiar to this art form, jazz remains both nostalgic and forever questing in forward motion. But on this night we pause to honor the greats, including the year’s newly-minted class of NEAJMs and those past Masters in the audience; and therein lies one of the charms of these events, gazing around the hall and witnessing the pride and delight which the assembled Masters seem to take in this honor and this event. This year the NEA Jazz Masters evening shifted from its longtime January calendar slot to one conducive to April’s Jazz Appreciation Month designation. Despite the date shift the evening maintained its brilliance. For one thing its always interesting to glance around the room – in this case the NEA Jazz Masters event’s home for the last several years, Jazz at Lincoln Center – and gauge the assembled Masters in the house and their collective and individual responses to the acceptance speeches and subsequent performances of their peers. Just over the railing where we were situated I caught one of my mentors, NEAJM Randy Weston at rapt attention as the young heart/old soul vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant brought new depth to the timeless “Motherless Child” in tribute to the ancestor NEAJM Jimmy Scott. As she completed her performance a cappella, you could feel the rapt attention in the room poised to explode with applause. Hers was one of several house band serenades to the Masters, including the tasteful touch of their performing as the audience was being seated, which immediately elevated the collective attention span for the honors to come. Otherwise the performance component belonged to the new NEA Jazz Masters and friends.

Carla Bley gave a gracious, thoroughly selfless acceptance speech that was the start of a common thread in the acceptance remarks of the other two musicians – saxophonists George Coleman and Charles Lloyd – each of whom assured the audience in their individual parlance that theirs is a never-ending quest to truly learn this music; each conveying the sense that while graciously accepting this singular honor, none is ready to rest on these laurels. George Coleman, a bit halting of gait but forever brawny of tenor saxophone, teamed up with one of his acolytes, Eric Alexander, for a tenor tet-a-tet mini-set that sparkled particularly in the up tempo. Charles Lloyd brought the spiritual component with an extended performance of “Lark” from his new recording Wild Man Dance, his first for Blue Note.

This year’s NEA Jazz Masters A.B. Spellman recipient for advocacy went to the indomitable Joe Segal of Chicago’s enduring Jazz Showcase club. NEAJM Jimmy Heath introduced Segal with his usual puckish humor, then brought out his soprano sax to join Chicago’s own Ira Sullivan on alto for a squarely in the pocket tribute performance.

Word has it that the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters event will be held in DC; stay tuned… Here are some photos from this lovely evening, all courtesy of the keen eye of photographer Michael G. Stewart.

NEAJM 15 class
NEA JAZZ MASTERS CLASS OF 2015: l-to-r CHARLES LLOYD, CARLA BLEY, GEORGE COLEMAN, JOE SEGAL WITH NEA CHAIRMAN JANE CHU

NEAJM 15 Cecile
CECILE MCLORIN SALVANT GAVE A SPELLBINDING READING OF “MOTHERLESS CHILD”

NEAJM 15 George Coleman
GEORGE COLEMAN WAS COMMANDING ON TENOR WITH ONE OF HIS ERSTWHILE STUDENTS, ERIC ALEXANDER, AND HAROLD MABERN ON PIANO

NEAJM 15 Charles Lloyd
CHARLES LLOYD W/GERALD CLAYTON, JOE SANDERS, ERIC HARLAND, AND SOKRATOS SINOPOUOLOS

NEAJM 15 Heath & Sullivan
JIMMY HEATH & IRA SULLIVAN PROVING ONCE AGAIN THAT “BEBOP IS THE MUSIC OF THE FUTURE”, AS NEAJM DEXTER GORDON SAID

NEAJM 15 house band
THE HOUSE BAND FRONTLINE INCLUDED RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA ON ALTO, INGRID JENSEN ON TRUMPET, HELEN SUNG ON PIANO, RUDY ROYSTON ON DRUMS

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DC Jazz Festival Announces Lineup for
Jazz in the ‘Hoods Presented by Events DC
Neighborhood Venues Host More Than 80 Performances Citywide

One of the hallmarks of the annual DC Jazz Festival (full disclosure: your correspondent, Willard Jenkins is Artistic Director of DCJF) is its big tent component known as Jazz in the ‘Hoods. This annual celebration of the broad spectrum of jazz in our Nation’s Capital (a significant percentage of which is presented free of charge) is a vibrant component that includes venues and jazz producers from every quadrant of our city (Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest), including jazz presented in neighborhoods that are generally deprived of live opportunities to experience this art of the improvisers, such as east of the Anacostia River. Here’s the 411 on our Jazz in the ‘Hoods component for 2016. For complete DC Jazz Festival information visit www.dcjazzgest.org

WASHINGTON, April 20, 2015 — The DC Jazz Festival is thrilled to announce the schedule for Jazz in the ‘Hoods Presented by Events DC. Jazz in the ‘Hoods is a major feature of the DC Jazz Festival (June 10-16) that highlights the city as a vibrant cultural capital, and brings jazz to all four quadrants of the nation’s capital – NE/NW/SE/SW. Over 80 performances at more than 40 neighborhood venues will entertain Washington, DC residents and visitors across the city.

”The DC Jazz Festival has grown into the largest music festival in the District of Columbia and as a supporter of the DC Jazz Festival for the last seven years, we are proud to be associated with the overall growth of the festival and in particular, Jazz in the ‘Hoods,” said Erik A. Moses, managing director of Events DC’s Sports and Entertainment Division. “The Jazz in the ‘Hoods series brings people together to enjoy great jazz in a variety of DC’s coolest neighborhood venues.”

Jazz in the ‘Hoods Presented by Events DC represents an exciting partnership with local clubs, restaurants, hotels and galleries in celebration of jazz in our nation’s capital. Jazz in the ‘Hoods takes place in over 40 DC venues with more than 80 performances in 21 neighborhoods throughout the city, presenting a mix of local and nationally recognized artists in an attempt to recognize and celebrate the genre. It has a tradition of attracting large, varied audiences of DC residents and tourists of great diversity.
For the fifth consecutive year, Jazz in the ‘Hoods will include CapitalBop’s DC Jazz Loft Series. A partnership of DC Jazz Festival and CapitalBop, DC Jazz Loft Series will present young, boundary breaking musicians as well as DC-based artists all grounded in the tradition of jazz and its extensions, often performing in unusual or pop-up venues. This is a “pay-what-you-can” series designed to attract the broadest spectrum of attendees, including young, first-time audiences.

The EAST RIVER JazzFEST returns for its 4th year. In collaboration with East River Jazz, a “festival within a festival” will present free jazz performances and programs to thousands of residents, at theaters, museums, places of worship, libraries and senior centers east of the Anacostia River. All EAST RIVER JazzFEST performances will celebrate American composer Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s chief collaborator

With a variety of free and ticketed performances in 21 neighborhoods, including Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, Chinatown, Downtown, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, Mount Pleasant, the H Street Corridor, Southeast, Southwest, Takoma Park, the U Street Corridor and Woodley Park, Jazz in the ‘Hoods annually attracts a vibrant audience of thousands of music enthusiasts.

New in 2015: the University of the District of Columbia is partnering with DC JazzFest on music and education programs, including a Bossa Nova exhibition from the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives, launching in June and running the entire summer. The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage will host the Discovery Series, five free concerts highlighting up-and-coming young artists. And, Transparent Productions, the DC area’s purveyor of cutting edge performances, will bring their unique flavor to the Festival.

Participating venue partners include Bohemian Caverns, Twins Jazz, Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, Atlas Performing Arts Center, and Gallery on H, and National Gallery of Arts Sculpture Garden, among others. Jazz in the ‘Hoods also features CapitalBop’s D.C. Jazz Loft Series at the Hecht’s Warehouse, THEARC and the EAST RIVER JazzFEST Series.

“Jazz in the Hoods is a classic manifestation of the DC Jazz Festival’s diverse, ‘big tent’ offerings, partnering with vibrant spaces and adventurous presenters around town to bring exciting artistry to our community,” said Willard Jenkins, the DCJF’s Artistic Director.

Jazz in the ‘Hoods showcases a virtual cornucopia of nationally and internationally acclaimed artists and numerous outstanding D.C.-based jazz groups. The schedule to date includes:

Anacostia Arts Center (1231 Good Hope Rd, SE)
June 13, 10:00 AM, The Lovejoy Group; Saturday Morning Jazz Brunch

Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H St, NE)
June 11, 8:00 PM, Brad Linde’s BIG OL’ ENSEMBLE feat. Elliot Hughes
June 14, 6:00 PM & 8:30 PM, In Jazz We Trust: Music in Motion/ The Princess Mhoon Dance Project

Bistrot Lepic & Wine Bar (1736 Wisconsin Ave, NW)
June 10, Jazz in the Wine Room
June 15, Jazz in the Wine Room

Bohemian Caverns (2001 11th St, NW)
June 10, 7:30 PM & 9:30 PM, Braxton Cook
June 11, 7:30 & 9:30 PM, Gretchen Parlato / Lionel Loueke Duo
June 12. 8:00 PM & 10:00 PM, Gretchen Parlato / Lionel Loueke Duo
June 13, 8:00 PM & 10:00 PM, Nicholas Payton
June 14, 4:30 PM, AfroHORN (a Transparent Production)
June 14, 7:00 PM & 9:00 PM, Nicholas Payton
June 15, 8:00 PM & 10:00 PM, Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra (with Special Guest Oliver Lake)
June 16, 7:30 PM & 9:30PM, Artist in Residence: Christie Dashiell

Children’s National (111 Michigan Ave, NW)
June 16, 12:30 PM, Charles Rahmat Woods
June 16, 2:30 PM, Laura Sperling

Dorothy I. Heights Benning Neighborhood Library (3935 Benning Rd, NE)
June 15, 2:00 PM, Iva Jean Ambush and Jazz Abuscade: Billy Strayhorn and Lena Horne/They’re Together Again

Dukem Jazz (1114-1118 U St, NW)
June 11, 9:00 PM & 10:30 PM, Mark Meadows Quartet

Francis A. Gregory Neighborhood Library (3660 Alabama Ave, SE)
June 12, 1:00 – 3:00 PM, Janelle Gill Ensemble: Exploring Strayhorn
June 13, 2:00 – 4:30 PM, Christylez Bacon: Strayhorn from a Hip-Hop Perspective

Gallery On H (1354 H St, NE)
June 12, 8:00 – 11:00 PM, Music in the Courtyard
June 13, 7:00 – 11:00 PM, Jazz Circus in the Courtyard
June 14, 2:00 – 7:00 PM, Music in the Courtyard

Haydee’s Restaurant (3102 Mt Pleasant St, NW)
June 11, 7:00 PM, Rock Creek jazz
June 12, 9:00 PM, Little Red & The Renegades
June 13, 7:00 PM, D-6 Jazz Band

CapitalBop’s DC Jazz Loft Series at Hecht Warehouse (1401 New York Avenue, NE)
June 11, 8;00 PM, Trio of Trios: Gary Thomas / Warren Wolf / Young Lions
June 12, 9:30 PM, Thundercat / Sam Prather‘s Groove Orchestra
June 13, 8:00 PM – 12:00 AM, AACM at 50: Ernest Dawkins, Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed, Tomeka Reid

Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital (921 Pennsylvania Ave, SE)
June 14, 5:00 PM, CapitalBop’s Hot 5 at Hill Center, feat. Fred Foss

Honfleur Gallery (1241 Good Hope Rd, SE)
June 14, 1:00 – 3:30 PM, Reginald Cyntje Ensemble: Strayhorn, Caribean Interpretations

Japan Information and Cultural Center (1150 18th St, NW)
June 11, 6:30 PM, Nobuki Takamen

Jojo’s Restaurant and Grill (1515 U St, NW)
June 10 & 11, 7:30 – 11:30 PM, Live Jazz, Blues & R&B
June 12, 10:00 PM – 2:30 AM, Late Night Live Jazz, Blues & R&B
June 14 – 16, 7:30 – 11:30 PM, Live Jazz, Blues & R&B

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (1550 Anacostia Ave, NE)
June 14, 10:00 AM, Herman Burney/ Reginald Cyntje: Sunday Morning Strayhorn Duet

Kennedy Center Millennium Stage (2700 F St, NW)
DC Jazz Festival “Discovery Series”
June 8, 6:00 PM, Elijah Jamal Balbed Jo-Go Project
June 10, 6:00 PM, Sweet Lu Olutosin
June 12, 6:00 PM, Alison Crockett
June 13, 6:00 PM, Sine Qua Non
June 14, 6:00 PM, Crush Funk Brass

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (7th St & Constitution Avenue, NW)
June 12, 5:00 – 8:30 PM, George V. Johnson, Jr.

NYU/DC Abramson Family Auditorium (1307 L St, NW)
June 12, 12:00 PM, Meet the Artist: Edmar Casteñeda
June 13, 12:00 PM, Meet the Artist: NEA Jazz Master Jack DeJohnette

Renaissance Downtown DC (999 9th St, NW)
June 10, 5:00 – 8:00 PM, David Schulman and Quite Life Motel
June 12, 5:00 – 8:00 PM, Kenny Nunn-Trio

Renaissance DuPont Circle (1443 New Hampshire Ave, NW)
June 11, 5:00 – 8:oo PM, Eliot Seppa Trio
June 12, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Colin Chambers Trio

Rumba Café (2443 18th St, NW)
June 10, “La Trifulca” Live Tango Music, Emmanuel Trifilio in Bandoneon
June 11, 9:00 PM, Martin Zuniga Quartet, Afro Peruvian Music
June 12, 11:00 PM, Joe Falero’s Band, Latin Jazz, Boleros, Rumba
June 13, 11:00 PM, Kique’s Band, South American Rock Pop Acoustic
June 14, 9:00 PM, Pavel Urkiza” Cuban Troubadour – Ibero American World Music

Sixth & I Historic Synagogue (600 I St, NW)
June 14, 2:00 PM, Meet the Artist: Billy Hart of The Cookers
June 14, 8:00 PM, The Cookers feat. George Cables, Billy Harper, Donald Harrison, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Cecil McBee, and David Weiss (including post-concert Meet the Artist Q&A)

Takoma Station Tavern (6914 4th St, NW)
June 10, 7:00 PM, Brilliant Corners featuring T. Sharron
June 11, 7:00 PM, Dial 251
June 16, 7:00 PM, Bill Freed with First and Third (Jam Session)

Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) (1901 Mississippi Ave, SE)
June 9, 10:30 AM, Jazz Meets Hip Hop: The W.E.S. Group – Free-registration required

Tryst (2459 18th St, NW)
June 12, 9:00 PM, Pocket Funk
June 15, 8:00 PM, Electric Trio
June 16, 8:00 PM, Wytold – Cello Soloist

Tudor Place Historic House and Garden (1644 31st St, NW)
June 10, 6:00 PM, James King String DUO with Donato Soviero

Twins Jazz (1344 U Street, NW)
June 11, 8:00 & 10:00 PM, Sasha Elliot
June 12, 9:00 & 11:00 PM, Michael Thomas Quintet
June 13, 9:00 & 11;00 PM, Michael Thomas Quintet
June 14, 8:00 & 10:00 PM, Marty Nau

Uniontown Bar and Grill (2200 Martin Luther King Junior Ave, SE)
June 13, 8:00 PM, Greg Hatza’s Organ Blues Band: Blues – Strayhorn – Blues

UDC Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives: Learning Resources Division (Library Building 41, Level-A) (4200 Connecticut Ave, NW)
Summer 2015, Mon-Sat, Library Hours, Exhibition: Bringing Bossa Nova to the United States

UDC: Recital Hall (Performing Arts Building 46-West) (4200 Connecticut Ave, NW)
June 9, 7:00 PM, JAZZforum: Muneer Nasser-UpWrite Bass: The Musical Life and Legacy of Jamil Nasser

UDC Amphitheatre (4200 Connecticut Ave, NW)
June 15, 7:00 PM, JAZZAlive in the Hood: Bruce Williams with Allyn Johnson and the UDC JAZZtet

We Act Radio (1918 Martin Luther King Junior Ave, SE)
June 14, 1:00 PM, Various Children Essays & Videos: A Strayhorn-Inspired Historical Collage Pop-Up
June 14, 4:00 – 7:00 PM, Pepe Gonzalez Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz Ensemble: Strayhorn inspired Afro-Cuban Jazz

The 2015 DC Jazz Festival will be held June 10-16. For a complete schedule and more information, visit www.dcjazzfest.org.
Keep up with the DCJF:
• Twitter: twitter.com/dcjazzfest
• Facebook: facebook.com/dcjazzfest
• Instagram: instagram.com/dcjazzfest
• Flickr: flickr.com/photos/dcjazzfest
• Foursquare: foursquare.com/dcjazzfest

About DC Jazz Festival® (DCJF)
With more than 125 performances in nearly 60 venues across the city, the DC JazzFest is one of the largest music festivals in the country. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the DCJF has experienced spectacular year-by-year growth. As the fastest-growing jazz festival in the U.S., the DCJF celebrates America’s unique original art form during this international event that attracts jazz lovers from around the world to the nation’s capital. The DCJF also presents year-round programs with performances featuring local, nationally and internationally acclaimed artists. The DCJF’s mission is to promote music, particularly jazz, education programs and actively support community outreach to expand and diversify its audience of jazz enthusiasts. The 2015 DC JazzFest will take place June 10-16. For more information about the DCJF and its activities, visit www.dcjazzfest.org.

About Events DC
Events DC, the official convention and sports authority for the District of Columbia, delivers premier event services and flexible venues across the nation’s capital. Leveraging the power of a world-class destination and creating amazing attendee experiences, Events DC generates economic and community benefits through the attraction and promotion of business, athletic, entertainment and cultural activities. Events DC oversees the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, an anchor of the District’s hospitality and tourism economy that generates over $400 million annually in total economic impact, and the historic Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square. Events DC manages the Stadium-Armory campus, which includes Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and surrounding Festival Grounds, the non-military functions of the DC Armory and Maloof Skate Park at RFK Stadium. Events DC also built and now serves as landlord for Nationals Park, the first LEED-certified major professional sports stadium in the United States. For more information, please visit www.eventsdc.com.

Proud major sponsors of the DC JazzFest, to date, include: Events DC; Forest City Washington, Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District, The Washington Post; ABC7/WJLA-TV and News Channel 8; Squire Patton Boggs, LLP; LCG, Sage Communications; Clyde’s Restaurant Group and Hamilton Live; Renaissance Hotels, Destination DC; WHUR; the Washington City Paper; Linda and Michael Sonnenreich; Amtrak; WMATA; The Washington Informer; WAMU, Washington Parent, WPFW, and Hipnotic Records.
The DC Jazz Festival®, a 501(c)(3) non-profit service organization, is made possible, in part, with major grants from the Government of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser, Mayor; and, in part, by major grants from the Anne and Ronald J. Abramson Family Foundation, Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, Mayo Charitable Foundation, Venable Foundation, NEA Foundation, CrossCurrents Foundation, New Music USA; and with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, an agency supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts; and by the City Fund, administered by The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. ©2015 DC Jazz Festival. All rights reserved.

Complete information: WWW.DCJAZZFEST.ORG

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The Keen Eye of Keter Betts

Keter Betts exhibit
So what is it about playing the bass and developing a keen eye for photography? Remember those three superb coffee table photography books by one of the great jazz bass pioneers, Milt Hinton (“Bass Line”, “Over Time”, and “Playing the Changes”)? And what a gracious, storytelling man he was! One can absolutely feel the stories poring forth from the roving photographic eye of Milt Hinton in his on-the-road chronicles of the jazz life in those pages. I fondly recall one agreeable afternoon in Fano, Italy, a lovely beach town on the Adriatic Sea coast where Umbria Jazz producers had come to extend the abundant charms of their festival from the Etruscan hillside charms of Perugia to the “Italian Riviera”. As we sampled an amazing array of seafood at a large roundtable with fellow journalists, Milt regaled us with tales of early jazz lore. At one point his gracious wife Mona piped up “…he can remember what happened in 1925, but can’t remember what he had for breakfast this morning!” As always, Milt was strapped with his trusty camera, but I never got to ask him how he came to be not only one of the finest exponents of his instrument, but also such a keen photographic chronicler of his age.

A few years later came an assignment from the Smithsonian to conduct an oral history interview with bassist Keter Betts at his Silver Spring, MD home. You remember Keter, right?
Keter Betts
THE EVER-EBULLIENT KETER BETTS
Keter was the steady bulwark behind so much of Ella Fitzgerald‘s small group work; with a fat sound and warm-heart, the ebony-hued presence of Keter, with his quick smile at some inside bandstand joke, the presence who gave lift to Ella’s girlish, scat-tastic flights. During our interview I asked him about the Billie Holiday contention that the most important musician in her ensemble was always the bass player. He responded that for his place on Ella’s bandstand, he always strategically planted himself directly behind Ms. Fitzgerald and aimed his bass at a figurative bullseye he’d paint directly in the small of her back; that was one key to their long partnership.

Keter Betts shot
ONE OF KETER’S IMAGES OF THE FANS

Another major bullet point in Keter Betts’ career was his lengthy stint with another of the DC area’s musical pillars, guitarist Charlie Byrd. Though the modest Keter spoke about it with no apparent rancor, fact is the development of the 60s bossa nova craze might not have been quite the same without the bassist. Ahead of Byrd, and certainly ahead of Stan Getz – the biggest commercial beneficiary of all – it was Keter Betts who visited Brazil and carried home the compatible idea of jazz and bossa nova, hipping Byrd to the possibilities and leading to the historic Jazz Samba recording session at DC’s All Souls Church on 16th Street, just up the hill from the capital’s storied U Street (“Black Broadway”) district.

keter betts kbcpress
A KETER BETTS PRESS PHOTO SHOOT OF THE CHARLIE BYRD TRIO, KETER ON BASS

Betts was also bitten by the shutterbug. A significant sidebar to his career was capturing visual moments for posterity, particularly around the DC scene. Encountering musicians along the way who needed publicity shots, Betts even grew a side business of accommodating those self-marketing requirements of the trade, becoming an adept headshot hunter. Now, nearly 10 years after his ’05 passing on to ancestry, the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County (MD) has mounted a wonderful exhibit of Keter Betts’ photographic artistry. (Full disclosure: Suzan Jenkins is the CEO of the AHCMC.) Curated by Amina Cooper, from the collection of Keter’s daughter Jennifer Betts come images that tell stories of U Street jazz lore, capture delicious slices of the arc of DC’s understated master chanteuse Shirley Horn, Byrd and other stalwarts like fellow bassist Wilbur Little, bringing to life several angles on the DC scene and the broader world as Mr. Betts experienced it. An additional treat, courtesy of the longtime Silver Spring, MD-based monthly JazzTimes, is a wall dedicated to the masterful work of ace JT photog Jimmy Katz.

Keter exhibit
A FAN VIEWING THE CURRENT EXHIBIT

So just what is it about bass players and the art of photography? Both Milt Hinton and Keter Betts are lavishly credited with mentoring another highly-skilled contemporary bassist, DC’s own Herman Burney. Tall, bespectacled and professorial in bearing, the affable Burney brings ample bottom and gravitational lift to whatever bandstand has the good taste to engage him. Spend enough time around Herman Burney and your image is likely to be captured by his trusty, ever-present camera. A major component of “Bassically Yours,” the current Keter Betts photo exhibit, is three free programs featuring Herman Burney, including a conversation that promises to explore this whole bass player/photographer equation.

Keter exhibit-Jennifer
KETER BETTS DAUGHTER JENNIFER BETTS AT THE OPENING

Important Dates:
Friday, March 20 2015, 6pm – 8pm
The Betty Mae Kramer Gallery & Music Room Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place Sliver Spring, Maryland 20910
Monday-Friday, 9 AM – 6 PM

Exhibition Tour with Curator Amina Cooper
Thursday, April 16, 2015 at 12:00pm

Bass Choir Performance and Panel Discussion with Herman Burney, Kris Funn, & Victor Dvoskin Thursday, April 16, 2015 6:00pm – 8:00pm

A Special Performance of The Herman Burney Trio
featuring Herman Burney, Reginald Cyntje and Harold Summey Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 6pm

Exhibition Lecture – Bassist Herman Burney in Conversation with Willard Jenkins
Thursday, May 14, 2015 6:00pm – 8:00pm

Website: www.creativemoco.com/BassicallyYours

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