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The DC Jazz Festival Hopes to Demystify Jazz for Millennials

The festival runs from June 10 to 16.

Brace yourself, Millennials. Paquito D'Rivera performs at The Hamilton on June 11 as part of the DC Jazz Festival. Photo by Lane Pederson.

It seems every day there’s another company announcing some bold, new endeavor targeting Millennials. Did you hear those Sriracha-crazed kids hate GMOs? And that they won’t buy cars? Er, wait, maybe they will?

Businesses aren’t the only ones trying to understand what’s considered the largest and most diverse generation in the US. DC Jazz Festival artistic director Willard Jenkins, a longtime journalist and consultant, started his new gig back in January with one focus in mind: He wants to break barriers between young professionals and jazz.

Running from June 10 to 16 across multiple venues in DC, the festival has already made an effort to attract people of all ages. At Jazzfest at the Yards, a two-day showcase this weekend, the audience gets music plus chef demos, drink tastings, and family-friendly activities.

For Jenkins, however, there’s more to be done. The city has plenty of traditional jazz concerts year-round, he explains. The festival is the perfect opportunity to introduce Millennials to jazz through special programming: culinary events, Q&As, and intimate discussions where artists can mingle with the audience.

Millennials, he reasons, are interested in events that stretch beyond music. They crave “experiences” and the occasional tie-in with social media. “A lot of younger people are not interested in going to a typical concert where you’re in a seat for a couple of hours and can’t take a picture,” he says.

He hopes to make jazz as approachable as pop or rock. To achieve this, he’s looking to explain exactly what goes on behind the scenes, showing DC how improvisation works and how musicians create songs. “It’s mysterious to a lot of people,” he says. “There’s always a sense that they need to come to jazz with a certain knowledge that they don’t come to popular music with.”

Most musicians and programs were booked long before Jenkins got his start earlier this year. But in 2016, DC can expect more events like Jazzfest at the Yards.

As for this time around? Jenkins says he’s really pumped about Paquito D’Rivera’s performance at the Hamilton on June 11, the Jack DeJohnette Trio’s gig at the Hamilton on June 13 (featuring saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, son of John and Alice Coltrane), and the Cookers’ show at Sixth & I on June 14. DeJohnette and the Cookers member Billy Hart are participating in “meet the artist” events, as well.

The DC Jazz Festival runs from June 10 to 16.

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