Willard Jenkins Invigorates DC Jazz Festival
The DC Jazz Festival looks even more diverse this year, with hip-hop, soul and pop influences certain to attract millennials as well as the middle-aged, seniors and the casual music fan tourists by the busload – and all that would be great for Willard Jenkins, who was named earlier this year as the artistic director for the June 10-16 festival.
On this year’s diverse lineup, with artists like Common being presented as well as traditionalists like The Cookers, Jenkins said, “As far as our incorporating other forms in our festival lineup, I liken that to different related branches of the same tree. Jazz is not one style or approach to playing; I’ve always viewed jazz as an aesthetic umbrella, under which are a number of different styles or ways of expressing jazz. So I think it’s natural to try and present a diverse event like DCJF, particularly when you’re trying to attract such a diverse populace as we enjoy here in the DMV.”
A presenter of jazz festivals elsewhere, a jazz journalist and radio programmer with WPFW-FM (89.3) here in D.C., and someone who has been familiar with jazz artists far and wide for decades, Jenkins has been there and done that, but admits that his role with DCJF pushes the envelope.
“The biggest difference … is the DCJF has a wider scope … DCJF has evolved into a real Big Tent kind of event, literally encompassing all four quadrants of the city (NE, NW, SE, SW) with our partner venues,” says Jenkins. “This is truly a city jazz festival … whereas other festivals representative of their locale are city festivals, they mostly present in a designated venue or corner of their city.”
All over the city, from The Hamilton Live downtown to the Kennedy Center, the Atlas, Anacostia Arts Center and many other venues, as of early June, music fans can enjoy artists including The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, Snarky Puppy, The Cookers, Common, Esperanza Spalding, Jack DeJohnette with Ravi Coltrane, John Scofield, Paquito D’Rivera, Sharon Clark, Marshall Keys, Thundercat, Warren Wolf and many more. DCJF events actually begin with a June 5 preview event at Westminster Church with drummer Lennie Robinson and Friends and the Jazz ‘n’ Families Fun Days events June 6-7 with music, talks, displays and more at the Phillips Collection (see www.dcjazzfest.org for complete information).
Jenkins, originally from Cleveland, has experience as an artistic director for festivals in Ohio and New York City. Said DCJF Executive Director Sunny Sumter of Jenkins: “Willard has a proven track record of delivering innovative and visionary jazz programming. He is recognized internationally as a brilliant champion of jazz, and we are confident that his in-depth understanding of jazz both here in our region, nationally and abroad, will take the DC Jazz Festival to new heights.”
For this year’s DC Jazz Festival, the 11th one, one venue brought back due to popular acclaim is the Capital Riverfront at Yards Park in Southeast.
“From an artistic perspective,” Jenkins said, “and in terms of introducing a new, outdoor venue to the festival, last year on the Capital Riverfront (Yards Park) was a major undertaking and an unqualified success.”
Jenkins, an educator on jazz at seminars, forums and other special events, is also the co-author of the Randy Weston autobiography “African Rhythms” and was named a 2013 Jazz Hero by the Jazz Journalists Association.
“The most interesting thing about my work,” he said, “relates to what I continually refer to about this festival – DCJF has a lot of moving parts. Working with, coordinating, and maintaining strong collegial relationships with those partner venues and artists in this community, all the while striving to bring exceptional visiting artists into our community to perform during the festival are endlessly refreshing aspects of this work.”