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‘Jazz in the Garden’: A sweet, and sweaty, D.C. tradition

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An occasional series about the arts in Washington and the visitors who admire it.

Some go for the bands. Others for ample helpings of sangria. But in code-red heat, few go to “Jazz in the Garden” to view Joan Miro’s “Personnage Gothique.” Which is a shame, since the surrealist sculptor claimed that his works were “born in a state of hallucination.”

Triple-digit heat can cause phantasmic sightings, too.

On Fridays at 5 p.m., onlookers ignore ginormous spiders and brooding bunny rabbits in the National Gallery’s back yard. Lovers of jazz and picnics flock to the grounds, romanticizing pastoral living in summertime swelter. Interns stick out in (and stick to) slacks and dress shirts, sweat seeping through their rolled-up sleeves. They arrive whether big band or blues is blaring, even when the heat index is in the hundred-teens.

They go because they have to.

Because their friends are waiting.

Because they replied “yes” to an inter-office e-mail invitation.

“I didn’t want to cancel,” said Isadora Delatour, 29, an academic who tries to make it to a concert once every year. “I’m regretting it now. I checked the Web site hoping they’d cancel it.”

“I had no idea it would be this hot,” said congressional intern Pavan Rajgopal, 19, of a temperature that was still in the high 90s at 6 p.m. “I should have brought a change of clothes.”

Chris Bussing, 19, a Georgetown University student from Naples, Fla., said the heat was worse in Washington than in his notoriously humid home state. “In Florida, I’d never be wearing this,” he said, pulling at the lapel of his summer suit.

Over 12 seasons, “Jazz in the Garden” at the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden has become a Washington pastime for the under-30 set. The free Friday evening concert series, which runs from May to late August, attracts students and young professionals looking for a place to congregate before sundown.

The garden is always open, designed to highlight the gallery’s 17 works by some of the finest surrealist and modern sculptors of the 20th century. But at that hour (in that heat), crowds were apathetic to Barry Flanagan’s “Thinker on a Rock.” Few Instagrammed masterworks while the music was blaring. Discomfort dominated polite conversation. Crowds flocked to shady trees or braved the sun while dangling bare feet in the garden’s grand fountain, which doubles as an ice rink when winter sets in.

The gallery rarely cancels concerts, but it came close to rescheduling the one on June 29. The performance went forward despite the 104-degree temperature, which broke June records. Even with threats of wind and rain, nature complied with man’s agenda for a few hours before the treacherous derecho descended on Washington.

Although the setting tends to attract the young, one older jazz enthusiast seemed ambivalent to the heat.

“I’m cool, baby!” said Dillard Washington, 76, a retired government employee who claims to never miss a concert. In a short-sleeved pink shirt and Velcro tennis shoes, he waltzed and twisted with a rotation of young women, breaking only when the band stopped to remind the crowd to hydrate.

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