By Willard Jenkins, Artistic Director
As we continue to fill dates, and maneuver our way around the vast and delightful citywide jigsaw puzzle that will be our 15th annual DC JazzFest next June, more immediate events & presentations as part of our ongoing programming continue apace. One of the most prominent components in DCJF’s year-round presenting profile is our Fishman Embassy Series.
Back in our festival’s infancy, inspired primarily by his own global pursuits as world citizen Dizzy Gillespie’s manager, and his work in foreign ports as concert producer, DCJF’s founder Charlie Fishman sought to more fully embrace Washington’s vibrant foreign embassy community. Conversations ensued, collaborative agreements were forged, and our festival found welcoming homes in foreign embassies and ambassador’s residences around Washington. What is now our Fishman Embassy Series has become a DCJF signature, one that makes us unique among jazz festivals.
Presenting our festival in the nation’s capital, a most international global city certainly compelled these fruitful collaborations. As festival curator what I find most appropriate about our Fishman Embassy series, beyond the foreign embassy presence in our figurative backyard, is our series’ relation to the globalization of jazz music. There was a time in the early-mid 20th century when jazz music was a decidedly exotic import for overseas audiences. The uniquely American art form found welcoming homes in foreign ports, audiences eager to embrace this most democratic of art forms, one that was born specifically out of the African experience in America.
Penny Von Eschen’s invaluable book, Satchmo Blues Up The World: Jazz Ambassadors Play The Cold War, vividly chronicles how jazz artists were cannily engaged by the U.S. State Department and sent to foreign ports to perform, starting in the 1950s. In many cases these tours played global hotspots that our government feared might be seduced by our Soviet Union adversaries.
One of the ultimate results of these tours, and the global fascination with the jazz art form and its artists, was the dissemination of jazz education around the world, as budding artists across the globe sought to immerse themselves in the jazz esthetic. The result is there are now jazz musicians, bands and festivals in practically every corner of the world. These artists have also arrived at delightful means of expressing their sense of jazz through the prism of their own cultures. I know a guy who swears the two things you can find anywhere in the world are Chinese food and jazz music!
While in the earliest stages of DCJF’s embassy partnerships there were instances of our embassy partners requesting that we curate these events with DC-based artists. We’re finding that our Fishman Embassy series evolution now almost exclusively involves embassies wishing to present and promote their own native jazz musicians and bands.
An example was our most recent Fishman Embassy Series evening, where we presented the French-Tunisian saxophonist Yacine Boulares at the Embassy of France; a performance preceded by a set performed by the delightful band Cornerstore, winners of our 2018 DCJazzPrix emerging bands competition. Boulares’ project played original music exploring the odyssey of Abu Sadiya, a West African migrant who immigrated to Tunisia; illustrating the West African presence in North Africa.
Stay tuned for news of other forthcoming programs in this essential series.