Which Washington Jazz Fest Is Your Jam?

If you tuck your t-shirt into your shorts, the answer is obvious.

It’s going to be a very jazzy June, with two big events wooing improv-music fans. But while Capital Jazz (June 1 through 3, Merriweather Post Pavilion; $69.50 to $245) and DC Jazz (June 8 through 17, various venues; free to $140) sound similar, their programming suggests wildly divergent ideas of what qualifies as jazz. Which is right for you?

Capital Jazz

Anita Baker - Courtesy of Post Merriweather PavilionAnita Baker - Courtesy of Post Merriweather Pavilion
Smokey Robinson - Courtesy of Post Merriweather PavilionSmokey Robinson - Courtesy of Post Merriweather Pavilion
Earth, Wind and Fire - Courtesy of Post Merriweather PavilionEarth, Wind and Fire - Courtesy of Post Merriweather Pavilion

Number of Acts:

30

Biggest Names:

’70s superstars Earth, Wind & Fire, Motown great Smokey Robinson, smooth-R&B singer Anita Baker, jazz-pop star Diana Krall, funk pioneer Larry Graham.

General Vibe:

With a lineup heavy on R&B hitmakers of yore and lite-jazz saxophonists in fedoras, it leans smooth, soulful, and skronk-free.

Target Audience:

People who tuck their T-shirts into their shorts.

Likely Highlight:

Late-era Prince protégé Liv War­field performing with the Purple One’s old horn section.

Jazz Cred:

Low. Though organizers found room for American Idol winner Fantasia and New Jack Swing star Keith Sweat, it doesn’t feature a lot of actual jazz acts. Time to rename it the Capital Pop Fest?

DC Jazz

Regina Carter. Photograph by Christopher Drukker.Regina Carter. Photograph by Christopher Drukker.
Leslie Odom Jr. Photograph by Nathan Johnson.Leslie Odom Jr. Photograph by Nathan Johnson.
Maceo Parker. Photograph by Philip Ducap.Maceo Parker. Photograph by Philip Ducap.

Number of Acts:

52

Biggest Names:

Original Hamilton cast member Leslie Odom Jr., adventurous pianist Robert Glasper, legendary James Brown saxophonist Maceo Parker, jazz violinist Regina Carter, saxophonist Oliver Lake.

 General Vibe:

Full of critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated artists, the ten-day gathering is multicultural, forward-looking, and skronk-friendly.

Target Audience:

People who look for Rudy Van Gelder’s name on vinyl reissues.

Likely Highlight:

Guitarist Jeff Parker, a long­time member of the Chicago post-rock ensemble Tortoise who now makes mellow and melodic solo records.

Jazz Cred:

High. Programming spans multiple styles and communities—from the traditional to the weird—while retaining a focus on innovation and improvisation.

This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

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