By Sunny Sumter, Executive Director
Last year in 2017, the DC Jazz Festival celebrated its 13th year. A keen eye would have noticed that that number didn’t appear anywhere in our advertising, much for the same reason that buildings lack a 13th floor – a silly superstition, yes, but for a music festival that takes not only a village but also the capital of our nation to succeed, you want to make sure you consider all the angles! So while we indulged in a moment of quiet triskaidekaphobia* (*a real thing; fear of the number 13!), we also yielded our then-most successful festival to date – thanks to the support of our fantastic sponsors, our partners, a great staff team and, most importantly, the best jazz fans in the land.
Then, after a successful season last summer, it became apparent that our organization was growing at a rate that needed to reflect the ever-expanding-and-diversifying look and feel of DC. This meant tapping into new venues, new collaborations, new artists, and new ways of thinking to ensure that we continued to reward the loyalty of our audiences who have supported us for more than a decade. While our 13th year brought no curses nor bad luck, it was clear that the challenge was outdoing ourselves in 2018.
The first key, stakeholder engagement, played the starring role. In case you haven’t heard the shouts from the rooftops, Events DC is our champion, having become the official presenting sponsor of DC JazzFest. Events DC’s commitment to this event supports both our organization and the DC jazz scene. Furthermore, we’re backed by a legion of our board of directors, our stewards; and sponsors both new and old, varied and robust—and too many to mention here. We express our gratitude on our website and brochures, and on many a mic throughout the year.
The second key comes from masterful artistic programming, thanks to the music curation overseen by Artistic Director Willard Jenkins alongside a cohort of programming partners throughout the city. Our programming in 2018 spanned genres, venues, cities, countries, continents – you name it. If there was a story to be told through the power of jazz on any one stage in DC, the DC JazzFest gave artists that platform. Even with all of its improvisation and free-spiritedness, jazz will always be a constant unifier of communities and stories in this city and beyond, and that is where our organization makes its home.
The third key is my team, an inspiring array of talents from so many backgrounds. This includes our organization’s faithfuls who’ve been through countless festivals and effortlessly execute the grant writing, marketing, event planning and outreach necessary to make our productions successful. It also includes our awesome interns who through our events management program bring skills and willingness to learn about nonprofit performing arts management (especially for jazz). This is on top of their sincere and impressive commitment to quality work, which gives me a hopeful outlook for the future of our leaders in this industry. And we can’t forget the incredible teamwork and support of our longtime friends at Sage Communications and Dal Entertainment, and our new faces at Mars On Gravity. These partnerships are an invaluable component in making certain the DC JazzFest is a seamless, streamlined, and sleek production from start to finish, from the beautiful content you see in our branding that takes over the town every May and June to the staging and experiential production details that make sure you have the best time with your guests in our house of jazz. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say that this team includes our Circle of Friends, who continue to show up and support all of our programs as fans, leaders and philanthropists.
To be perfectly honest, there are infinitely more “keys” to the success of this festival that would be impossible to dictate in fewer than 500 pages. As stated, a village is not all it takes to produce this festival – and that is one of the biggest rewards in everything we do. With the DC JazzFest, we can unite as a city to produce something wonderful, something meant for everyone and by everyone. With jazz as our constant, we continue to march forward as a beacon of hope.