The Petworth Jazz Project is back, and the event’s founder, Thomas Pipkin, says he hopes it’s bigger than last year. The project, only in its second year, showcases a different local act on the last Saturday of every month at the Petworth Recreation Center. It kicked off Memorial Day weekend with a concert by The Noble Jolley Quartet. “The crowd was chanting for an encore, which has never happened before,” Pipkin said of the May 26 show.
Pipkin has lived in Petworth for three years and came up with the project after mulling over ideas of how to utilize the large outdoor space that he passed regularly.“Once you start to do stuff like that . . . you start thinking about more things you can do to bring the community together in positive spaces,” said the jazz enthusiast, who also is on the Petworth Community Market. “Music popped into my mind first because I’m a fan of outdoor music; who’s not, right?”
Pipkin called upon his friend Omrao Brown, a proprietor of the U Street mainstay Bohemian Caverns, to be a source of talent. “There’s a plethora of bands to choose from,” said Brown, who has co-owned the Caverns for the past six years. “I think, in all reality, D.C. has enough musicians that we could go for seasons without having to go outside” to find talent.
The limited budget has proven to be a workable challenge for Brown, who focuses on bringing “quality” performers in. He closed out last season with the 17-piece Bohemian Caverns jazz orchestra. “We haven’t had a light turnout yet,” he said.
Tweaks to this year’s series include later start times and longer sets, up to 45 minutes from 30 for each act, in addition to advertising through social media and good old-fashioned word of mouth.
“What I’ve been doing now is . . . encourage [supporters] to tell their neighbors,” Pipkin said. “As people come out and they have a good time and they realize it’s a quality event and the music is top-notch, they’re naturally going to tell somebody.”
The project has also partnered with local restaurant Chez Billy’s, which played host last month to a fundraiser for the project and is in the process of planning live jazz events for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings during the summer.
Pipkin is also focused on increasing fundraising to keep the summer concert series free. Also, don’t hesitate to call if you believe your child is the next Louis Armstrong. “I’d love to have kids’ bands open up before the jazz band. There’s a lot of kids who are at the playground during the show. Having some children’s programming, I think, would be a great addition.” For all his outreach, Pipkin is still striving for a degree of community and intimacy. He even provides blankets at his events.
“You don’t really have to come prepared. You can just walk up and grab a piece of real estate,” he said.
“The reality is, jazz is the most relaxing sort of genre. You can have rock, you can have hip-hop, you can even have bluegrass . . . but anything else is not going to really have the same effect of allowing people to relax on the lawn and still be able to talk and communicate with each other.”