Jazz aficionados and novices should all find something to tap their feetalong with when the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival returns to Rockville Presidents Day weekend.
To “meet people where they are,” said tenor saxophonist and jazz educator Paul Carr, who’s run the festival since 2010, the annual jazz festival will feature “everything that’s jazz, every derivative of jazz,” from line dancing and Latin jazz to hip-hop and D.C.’s very own go-go.
“Of course, we have real jazz,” he said, referring to the straight-ahead acoustic tradition developed in the 1960s before hip-hop and other genres came along, but “all of those musics have been derived from jazz.”
The festival will take place where it always has: the Hilton Hotel in Rockville, with its atmosphere Carr compared to a land-bound cruise ship. The hotel lobby opens onto the Atrium Stage where free music starts at 4 p.m. Friday and runs through the end of the festival Sunday night.
“As soon as people walk through the door, I always wanted them to hear the sounds of real instruments, somebody playing,” Carr said. The other stages and rooms require passes that can be bought for the day or the weekend.
Carr gave this year’s festival the theme of “All Shades All Hues” because “everything should be considered,” he said. We’re “trying to cultivate the next group of people to, you know, to appreciate the music.”
Carr came to jazz through Grover Washington Jr., a pioneer of smooth jazz saxophone whose 1981 hit, “Just the Two of Us,” remains inescapable — it’s been used in over 700,000 TikTok videos.
“It’s not that I was sitting at home, you know, listening to Coltrane at 5 years or 12 years old,” he said. This generational awareness helped inspire the choice of this year’s tribute to Roy Hargrove.
The trumpet and flugelhorn player rose to fame as one of the “Young Lions” of the 1990s, playing to the foundations of jazz in a suit and tie before pushing its boundaries in collaborations with hip-hop and soul icons like Questlove, D’Angelo, Common, and Erykah Badu. With two Grammys in separate categories to his name, his 2018 death at age 49 sent shockwaves through the jazz world.
Hargrove “actually embodied ‘All Shades All Hues,’” Carr said, which festival attendees can hear in a Friday night tribute performance that will mix players from Hargrove’s RH Factor — which combined jazz, funk, soul, and hip-hop — and the more straight-ahead Roy Hargrove Quintet.
The festival will also feature two screenings of the 2022 documentary HARGROVE, one on Friday before the tribute show, and another Saturday afternoon followed by a Q&A with director Eliane Henri and Hargrove’s band members Quincy Phillips and Bruce Williams.
The film follows Hargrove in his final European tour reflecting on his life and “dropping all of the jewels of wisdom that he thinks is important for the next generation of musicians,” director Henri said. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and isn’t yet available in theaters or for streaming.
Henri first saw Hargrove play in 1990 when she was 17 and he was 20, she said. Whereas the other jazz concerts her aunt dragged her to “felt like eating vegetables,” Hargrove made jazz “really cool and current and present” when “no people our age were really listening to jazz” in hip-hop’s heyday.
The film has been a hit with Hargrove die-hards and newcomers, Henri said.
“People told me, ‘I didn’t even think I liked jazz. But I was wrong. I don’t even think I really knew what jazz was.’”
Juxtaposing interviews between Jazz at Lincoln Center Artistic Director and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and rapper Mos Def, Henri said the film sharpens their opposing perspectives in “wanting to preserve the purity of the tradition” but also to “not have those barriers” between what is and isn’t jazz.
“I just love getting it in front of the young musicians and film students,” Henri said, after screening the film across the country, from the University of Miami to Juilliard and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. “It’s a mystical experience seeing Roy teach from the grave in real time.”
The festival offers an “outlet for younger people to meet some of these great musicians, you know, regional and national, that they look up to,” Carr said.
High school and college big bands across the region will also perform that weekend, including the West Virginia University Jazz Ensemble with vibraphonist Joe Locke, East Carolina University Jazz Ensemble with Italian saxophonist Ada Rovatti, and Baltimore’s Peabody Institute Jazz Ensemble with saxophonist Walter Smith III. Carr’s Jazz Academy Orchestra will be joined by trumpeter Randy Brecker.
“The event of the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival is something that is needed,” Carr said. “How many Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festivals are there around? Yeah, I wish they were in every city. But they’re not.”
Realizing Baltimore lacked opportunities to present jazz to their students, bassist Daryl Adams and other teachers in his Randallstown workshop formed the Deep Water Jazz Band, whose explorations in jazz and world music can be heard at the festival Saturday evening.
Kenny Washington, who has appeared at Jazz at Lincoln Center for numerous performances, will add his soulful voice to the Joe Locke Group on Friday evening for jazz standards, original music, and R&B classics like “Ain’t No Sunshine.” With their 15-year collaboration, Carr said, “I’ve just never heard anything like it before.”
Carr, who hails from Houston, will perform alongside Walter Smith III and Kirk Whalum in the Texas Tenor Titans — known for their big sound — Saturday night.
“They can make the horn holler. They can make it scream,” he added, which “regular people can identify with,” as opposed to the “fast, nerdy kind of saxophone that we are accustomed to hearing.”
“That’s what I really would like to get back to. … more musicians to think about playing for people that are not musicians,” Carr added.
Before the Texans Tenor Titans take the stage on Saturday, jazz singers Sharón Clark, Christy Dashiell, and Ashley Pezzotti will host a Scatt Summit, playing some tunes together and then breaking out to do their own thing with the rhythm section, Carr noted.
Four-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker will close out the festival Sunday night with Ada Rovatti. “He’s gonna play some of those Brecker Brother favorites because she’s a great tenor player,” Carr said. Playing soul, fusion, and straight-ahead jazz, “He’s definitely ‘All Shades All Hues,’” he added.
Ethan Dodd is a Maryland-based freelance writer.