Washington DC holds TWO special places in my heart. One holding my childhood memories and the other holding new memories I am creating as an adult. I would like to talk a bit about both.
The DC of my youth was a magical, mysterious, and confusing city where my parents took me to get cultured, hear great jazz, and play with my mentors. I grew up just north of DC in Maryland. Back then we called it the Greater Metropolitan DC Area. I just new that my neighborhood felt like the country and DC felt like the big city. Every
time we would drive to DC I would sit in the back seat (usually nervous anticipating the musical butt kicking I was about to receive) pondering the municipal street system of DC. I still wonder who came up with the street system in DC. Lettered streets turn into numbered streets and numbered streets cross over other numbered streets. It makes absolutely no sense. My dad always took 16th street to get to DC. It was the most direct route with the most minimal chances of getting lost. I always looked forward to passing “Allison” street, fantasizing that I might one day sneak out in the middle of the night and steal the “Allison” street sign.
I have many fabulous musical memories of DC as a young drummer. Countless trips to Georgetown to hear the greats of jazz at Blues Alley: McCoy Tyner, Ahmad Jamal, Chick Corea. In fact, one of my most exciting and terrifying moments involved Blues Alley and Charlie Byrd. I was 15 and Walter Salb, my first drum teacher, took me to see Charlie Byrd at Blues Alley. Turns out he was pals with Charlie and Chuck Redd, Charlie’s drummer. Without filling me in on his little plan, he somehow talked Charlie into asking me to sit in with him on “Cute,” the brush feature. Next thing you know I am on stage with Charlie Byrd playing “Cute.” I don’t think I had ever felt so nervous in my life. Who knows how I actually played.
I also have fond memories of Twins Lounge (the first Twins Jazz Club) . I started going to Twins before I could drive. I would go and sit in at the jam sessions, always leaving humiliated yet somehow inspired to go home and practice. Isn’t that a big mystery of life? How one can feel nervous and excited at the same time. And how that nervousness can improve one’s performance. Returning for more humiliation is also another mystery of the human condition.
Here are a few more childhood memories of DC that I must mention: Studying with Fred Begun- timpanist for the National Symphony Orchestra, seeing Prince for the first time, finally getting to see “The Brand New Heavies” at the old 9:30 Club, going to see “Annie” at the Kennedy Center with my family, but having to leave the musical early because my entire family got food poisoning from eating at the cafeteria on the roof of the Kennedy Center, my high school graduation ceremonies at DAR, and the first time I felt the smooth ride of playing with a master bassist like Keter Betts.
My memory of DC as an adult is quite different. Although, both of my DC’s have been equally supportive of my drumming and career as a Jazz musician. DC now represents a kind of musical home-base, instead of a scary trip to the big city and big city venues that I could only ever dream of playing. I now perform on the same Kennedy Center stage where my family once attempted to see “Annie.” I frequently play Blues Alley, the new Twins, and the new 9:30 club. I’ll never forget the first time I sold out Blues Alley. It was a great night. And, in 2010, I was asked to be the Commencement Speaker for my alma mater, Sherwood High School. This was quite the honor and as I nervously approached the podium to humbly impart any knowledge and advice I could offer to the class of 2010, I realized exactly 18 years ago I was sitting in the same place as these graduating kids. And during my senior year, 18 years ago, these graduating seniors of 2010 were being born. This realization sent shivers down my spine as I commenced to speak in front of 3,500 proud family members and students.
I also want to give praise to that DC “swing feel.” It has been a continuum in my entire career as a drummer. DC swing is unique and unlike any other swing in any other city. It’s a perfect combination of northeast forward motion and laid back southern swing. All jazz musicians originally hailing from DC feel this “swing” deeply in their bones. It is always there and will always be a major component in every DC raised jazz musician.
I return to DC once again on March 21st. I am honored to be the guest artist for opening night of the 6th Annual Washington Women in Jazz Festival at the Atlas Theater. This is a new venue and festival for me and I am so excited to be a part it. I am also thrilled to know that a new generation of DC jazz musicians and presenters are dedicated to keeping the DC jazz scene alive and vibrant. This is America’s music and I can’t think of a better city for jazz to be alive and kicking!
And, by the way, I still don’t understand the streets of DC. Still get lost … every time!