Editors' pick

Jazz on Jackson Place


Editorial Review

2012 Schedule:
June 7: Victor Provost (steel pan)
July 5: The Phillip Martin Project (saxophone)
Aug. 2: The Yvonne Johnson Project (piano/vocals)
Sept. 1: The Amy K. Bormet Trio (piano/vocals)

It's the music, not 'the scene'
By Jess Righthand
Friday, July 29, 2011

The Decatur House's Jazz on Jackson Place summer concert series looks a lot like a wedding reception, and it feels like a festive night, too.

Held in the 1818 home's courtyard garden, just a stone's throw from the White House, the series attracts a merry crowd of 150 or so mixed-age guests, clad in smart sundresses and light-colored suits. Surrounding trees twinkle with rings of tiny white lights near trellises lush with hydrangea, eastern redbud and camellia bushes.

Now in its sixth year, the series brings an eclectic, international smattering of jazz artists to the picturesque courtyard -- and it's the only way the public can get into it right now. (The house is in a period of transition since the White House Historical Association began managing it last year.) Tranquil and music-focused, the concerts are also an antidote to the overcrowding and "scene" factor at other outdoor concerts.

For $25, concertgoers can get beer and wine from two open bars that never seem to have lines and tasty hors d'oeuvres from different caterers at each show. Offerings at the July concert from Spilled Milk Catering included bacon-wrapped dates, tomato and mozzarella skewers, shrimp and other light dishes.

Then there's the music. Little more than an afterthought at some other concert series, it's front and center here. In July, the night's featured act was Lena Seikaly -- one of Washington's brightest young voices in jazz -- backed by a talented quartet assembled by keyboard player Burnett Thompson. As she sang her way further into the first set, people started moving toward the bandstand to listen instead of chatting the night away.

"You can actually hear the music," says Marissa Furman, who heard about the event through the social and networking group Professionals in the City. "The age group is diverse, and the food is good." Furman adds, "To come every month, $25 might be high." But when compared with the $18.50 pitchers of sangria at Jazz in the Garden, for example, it's certainly not a bad deal.

The performers are grateful for the intimate setup, too. At larger social events, Seikaly says, "only a handful of people are really there for the music. Here, it's very much the opposite. ... They actually clapped after solos."