It’s that time: Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival ’17

It’s February, time for the East Coast’s #1 winter jazz festival, the annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. Annually, on President’s Day Weekend (this year February 17-19) the MAJF takes over the Hilton Hotel in Rockville, MD in true jazz party atmosphere. Given the venue and its multiple performance spaces, MAJF boasts a dedicated audience that motors in from around the region – and often from beyond – for three days and nights of great jazz, including free, all-day rotating performances by top high school and collegiate jazz ensembles on a lower lobby level stage.

One of the hallmarks of the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival is that it is produced by one of the DMV’s leading musician-educators, tenor & soprano saxophonist and prolific recording artist Paul Carr, director of the Jazz Academy of Music jazz education program, and his wife Karmen Carr. In case you’re not hip, here’s the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival deal in Paul Carr’s own words:

Paul Carr blowing some goodness with stellar vocalist Sharon Clark, in performance at the 2016 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. [Photo by Tyrone Kenney/NeoBop]

How did the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival first come into existence?
PAUL CARR: The Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival (MAFJ) is presented in the true spirit and intent of the former East Coast Jazz Festival (ECJF). Founded in 1992 by vocalist/vocal educator Ronnie Wells, for the next 15 years the ECJF was produced by and benefited The Fish Middleton Jazz Scholarship Fund, Inc. (FMJS). ECJF was originally created in honor of Elmore “Fish” Middleton, a Washington, DC jazz radio programmer, whose commitment to promoting jazz music and supporting emerging jazz artists became the guiding principle behind the festival. I was in Ronnie’s band and I served as one of the judges for the annual Fish Middleton Scholarship competition. Those were great times and I learned a lot. For 15 years, up until Ms. Wells passing on to ancestry in March, 2007, she and her husband and co-founder, pianist-educator Ron Elliston presented the ECJF. The festival ultimately became a mid-winter tradition in the Washington, DC metro region. In 2009, Suzan Jenkins, CEO of the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, held a series of meetings to discuss how we could bring back the East Coast Jazz Festival. -During these spring meetings, it was determined that it would easier structure-wise for the Jazz Academy Of Music to produce the “new” festival.

I founded and established the 501c3 Jazz Academy Of Music in 2002 and we have year-round education programs for school age students. I really missed the ECJF, and it having been gone only two years following Ronnie’s passing. I was already teaching kids that had never heard of the festival. Having a jazz festival that features jazz education is vital for the future of the music in so many ways. So I wanted give it a try, but I had to go home and sell it to the boss, Karmen, my wife. Lol! Once Karmen agreed, I knew the festival had a chance. We changed the name to Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival to mark a new start in the same tradition.

What’s it been like for a working musician-educator to serve as a jazz festival artistic director?
Being the Artistic Director of MAJF I think is fun, but really, really tough. MAJF does not have a big sponsor or a lot of really generous small sponsors, so that means we can’t absorb too many artistic blunders. So when I’m considering artists for the festival, things like artist’s marquis value, educational value, and budget, have to be factored in as well. There are so many artists that I want to present and hope to present but the timing and situation must be right. Also being a musician and educator myself, I can’t let my personal feelings get in the way of the job of artistic director. The loyal patrons of MAJF and the students are top of mind at all times. I have experienced a couple of artistic blunders, but it’s really cool when a set you put together does well or much better than you expected. 🙂

Curating the festival is a year-round task and it’s always kinda on your mind, even when it’s not. For instance, I can be in a music store and see something we could use for the high school big band competition on sale, so I’ll get it. Or someone will call you at 10:00 pm at night in the middle of the summer with some great or not so great advice about the festival. Because I’m playing and teaching so much, I try to take a month off after the festival, then start working on the following year.

Having done artistic direction work myself for over two decades, I have to ask what lessons a working musician like yourself has learned in that role?
Wow, the things I have learned dealing with artists and agents have been very enlightening, to say the least. I really appreciate artists who have a sense of history and community about the music. Realizing that keeping this great American art form presented and taught in a certain way is what is most important. I recognize that the jazz audience is small compared to other more accessible forms of music, and that all jazz artists must help cultivate and grow that audience. The handful of agents I have worked with since I began producing MAJF have been helpful for the most part. I really appreciate the agents that realize that all situations and all gigs don’t pay the same. 🙂 So in turn, when I’m asked to perform and/or teach, I consider the source, intentions and who might I connect with.

What kind of artistic balance do you strive to achieve with MAJF?
The artistic balance I’m trying to achieve when putting together the MAJF is to have a place for every type of jazz fan, young, old, hardcore, novice, every ethnicity, republican, democrat, independent… coming together under one roof to enjoy jazz. So the artists performing, the educational offerings, world class vendors, and panel discussions are all selected with the celebration of jazz and its community in mind.

One of the performance hallmarks of any Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival has been your annual Summit meeting, where you bring together musicians of a common instrument and have them play off of each other with the same rhythm section. Talk about putting those together.
The summits at MAJF have been a hit since day one. This year’s Guitar Summit promises to be another. The MAJF summits are not cutting contests like the ones that have been a part of jazz since the 30’s, but there’s an underlying unspoken vibe which is that’s exactly what it is. Lol! Jazz fans and musicians alike enjoy a good “Summit”. Seriously, all of our Summits have musically operated at the highest level, that’s why our patrons love them. Also, anytime you have three titans of an instrument on stage at the same time, sparks fly. I consider this year’s Guitar Summit participants, Russell Malone, Bobby Broom and Paul Bollenback to be jazz masters and I’m certain that’ll be a set not to be missed!

Here’s one of The Jazz Video Guy’s jazz editorial posts with some performance scenes from the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival:

Did this video in 2010.

Posted by Bret Primack on Sunday, January 29, 2017

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