Honoring Masters Like Melba Liston; Enjoying Women in Jazz
“Melba [Liston] had the incredible ability of making musicians sound better through what she wrote for them. That’s the mark of a great arranger,” writes jazz master pianist, composer, and bandleader Randy Weston in his autobiography, “African Rhythms,” written with our own DC Jazz Festival guru Willard Jenkins. “She wrote for Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Gloria Lynne, the Supremes, Bob Marley …”
This March we celebrate Women’s History Month and honor the legacy of women in jazz like trombonist Melba Liston (1926-1999), known for her musicianship and her arrangements and for helping pave the way for those like Washington Women in Jazz Festival performers Amy Bormet, Leigh Pilzer, Sarah Hughes, and Shannon Gunn.
Festival events this month include vocalist-educator Jessica Boykin-Settles’ free show, “Oh Ella! Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald,” a Rhythm Cafe performance at 2 p.m., Saturday, March 4, at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, 1901 Fort Place, SE. Call 202-633-4844 or see www.anacostia.si.edu for complete information.
Swedish alto saxophonist/flautist and bandleader Biggi Vinkeloe leads an improvisation workshop at 2 p.m., March 12, at Robert Harper Books, 6216 Rhode Island Ave., in Riverdale Park, Md. See www.washingtonwomeninjazz for more information. See March highlights below for other events featuring women performers.
InPerson … Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival
Vanessa Rubin, dazzling in her gold-sequined top and white pants, sang out to the large crowd, “Are You Ready for Me?” at the feature show on the main stage the first night of the 8th Annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival at the Hilton Hotel & Meeting Executive Center in Rockville last month. Then Rubin, with her guest Paul Carr, the festival impresario himself playing tenor sax, sang her way through a thoroughly entertaining set, including a rousing “All Blues.” Earlier that Friday, trumpeter DeAndrey Howard & Collector’s Edition, with sax man Tracy Cutler, delivered some spicy sounds in the atrium. Howard and Cutler shone on “Theme for Maxine,” “Yesterdays,” and other tunes, along with pianist Bob Butta.
On Saturday the festival’s vocalist competition highlighted our own Danielle Wertz, especially on “Beautiful Love,” and had a fine performance by Monica Pabelonio, among the other contestants, but Boston’s Lydia Harrell, with her dramatic, heartfelt, and sultry phrasing on tunes like “Black Butterfly,” stole the show for this observer. The East Carolina University Jazz Ensemble with hot, swinging horns wowed the atrium crowd, with vocalist Samantha Kunz soaring on “Stella by Starlight” and “I Wish I Would Know How It Would Feel to be Free.”
On Sunday the MAJF Collective, Akua Allrich on vocals, Janelle Gill, piano, and Savannah Harris, drums, was a highlight of the festival. Allrich was a witty and engaging entertainer as well as a stirring vocalist, leading the way on tunes like “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “Black Coffee,” and her own tunes like “Take My Time” and “Red Bark,” with Gill’s insistent melodic charms on piano and Harris’ efficient drum passages complementing Allrich’s rich and bluesy vocals and scatting riffs. The Paul Carr Quartet that night featured Carr’s bluesy sax and vocalist Jamie Davis’ booming baritone on tunes like “Night and Day.”
Steve Monroe is a Washington, DC, writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at www.twitter.com/jazzavenues.