The Kennedy Center, outside of Lincoln Center, offers the most extensive jazz programming of any of the major arts centers in this country. We owe that in part to the stewardship of the late, great jazz renaissance man Dr. Billy Taylor, who did so much during his storied tenure as Artistic Director for Jazz at the KC to not only provide the music with a prestigious platform, but also to dismiss the barriers and perceived boundaries between jazz and other classic art forms. Countless now-dedicated jazz enthusiasts mark one or a series of Billy Taylor presentations at the Kennedy Center as the turning point in their personal evolution through the music as consumers and lovers of the sounds, citing Billy as their virtual tour guide who demystified the music for them.
Working alongside Dr. Taylor for much of his tenure, steadily building the music’s significant Kennedy Center profile was the witty and erudite KC administrator Kevin Struthers, who has now been in place for over 20 years. It was largely Kevin Struthers who, upon the passing of Billy Taylor, had the prescience to engage a younger artist, pianist-composer Jason Moran, to take Jazz at the Kennedy Center to the next level. And when I speak next level, I’m also considering the fact that not only have Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wayne Shorter with the National Symphony, Charles Lloyd, and Robert Glasper found welcoming stages at the Kennedy Center in recent times, so have Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, the group Yard Byard, and Maceo Parker during Moran’s tenure. Along the way not only has the Terrace Theatre (gotta say, after years of descending stairs to lower level jazz haunts, I’ve always loved the idea of jazz being presented on the penthouse level at the KC!) been a welcome home to the music, but the music has also seen the altering of Kennedy Center’s physical plant in the morphing of a multi-purpose room into the Kennedy Center Jazz Club, and a huge, yawning atrium into the Crossroads Club. The latter, primarily under Moran’s keen programming, is a standing club, with bar, geared towards attracting younger audiences for dance-worthy presentations like Glasper’s Experiment, Soulive, Maceo, Roy Hargrove‘s RH Factor and others. Not only does the Crossroads Club lend itself to the dance impulse, its also friendly towards those who love nothing better than hitting up their devices during a performance to inform their social media contacts of the haps.
(Here’s a link to an interview I did with Jason Moran last spring.)
Earlier this week the Kennedy Center held its 2015/2016 season press announcement event, which covered its symphonic, dance, ballet, chamber music, opera, and jazz presentations, including several crossover efforts between KC constituent forms. In addition to Moran and artists representing the various forms, KC Composer-in-Residence Mason Bates introduced his new curated contemporary music series KC Jukebox, which among other programs on November 9 will present Lounge Regime: 100 Years of Ambient Music, which promises to take listeners on “an immersive journey through a century of ambient music, from today’s electronica to 1970s minimal is, to the “furniture music” of 1930s Paris.” This is decidedly not your grandmother’s Kennedy Center anymore! Bates will also collaborate with Moran next March in Jason + Mason at the Crossroads Club, on an evening of electric jazz that will include a DJ set by Bates alter persona, DJ Masonic.
This artist-curated crossing genres series will include several additional Moran collaborations, with classical pianist Jeremy Denk, choreographer Ronald K. Brown, a duo concert with Charles Lloyd, and a Gershwin program that will include his wife Alicia Hall Moran, an opera contralto. The Moran series bound to generate the most buzz – details of which led off Wednesday’s Washington Post account of the KC’s ’15/’16 season – is Jason + Skateboarding, a reprise of sorts of a fresh program Moran premiered at SF Jazz. Finding a Line: Skateboarding, Music, and Media will run September 11-12, 2015. The Kennedy Center will build a skateboarding venue and Jason Moran and the Bandwagon will perform in interaction with the skateboarders.
In addition to the usual raft of Kennedy Center jazz presentations at the Terrace Theatre and the KC Jazz Club, other highlights of the ’15/’16 jazz season include presentations of NEA Jazz Masters Jimmy Cobb, Jimmy Heath, and Charles Lloyd; Joe Lovano‘s new Village Rhythms Band (with Liberty Ellman, Michael Olatuja, Abdou Mboup, and Otis Brown lll) a world premiere commissioned work by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and the Discovery Artists series at the KC Jazz Club. Vijay Iyer will partner with the Brentano String Quartet on an evening October 15, and A Family Affair series will feature twins EJ and Marcus Strickland, The Whitfield Family Band (dad Mark on guitar and sons Mark Jr. on drums and Davis on piano), and twins Peter and Will Anderson Quintet, the two sets of twin brothers evenings inspired by Moran’s own experience raising twin sons, as he remarked during the press event.
That’s only part of an auspicious 2015/2016 Kennedy Center Jazz season; for complete details visit www.kennedy-center.org or Google Kennedy Center jazz.