Our nation’s capital has played an integral role in the development of jazz going back all the way to James Reese Europe.
The early career of Duke Ellington, the introduction of bossa nova to the United States, and the recognition of jazz as a national treasure all happened in Washington. There has also been a vibrant local scene with top-level players, only some of whom are known outside of the region. As pianist Marc Copland put it:
Our jazz musicians are as fine as any. I should know. I’ve played with a lot of great horn players, and I’d rate Buck Hill with anybody. I’ve played for a lot of great singers, and Clea Bradford can sing with anybody. Back in 1978, Harold Land and Blue Mitchell told me, Steve Novosel, and Bernard Sweetney: “You’re the best pickup rhythm section we’ve ever had.” In 1979, Steve Kuhn needed a drummer for an ECM record date and a national tour; he could have called any drummer in New York, but he called Mike Smith. Ella Fitzgerald could hire any bassist, but she calls Keter Betts.
If you can contribute information, you are encouraged to do so.
Over the years, brief overviews of the DC jazz scene have been presented. Some of them are listed below.
Recently, the first book devoted to jazz in Washington, DC was published. I contributed the final chapter “Researching Jazz History in Washington, D.C.,” which looks at the institutions, archives, libraries, and collections in the area that are working to preserve jazz materials. This website may be considered an extension of the work begun there.