True children of the information age, Russonello and Stewart are known by their URL — capitalbop.com — a site whose interviews, reviews and scrupulous concert listings have positioned the duo as Washington’s fastest-climbing jazz bloggers, promoters, movers, shakers and evangelists.
“Jazz is so dynamic and of a moment, it’s not hard to fall in love with it,” says Russonello. “It’s just about trying to get it in front of people.”
Russonello is 23. Stewart is 25. Both of them are studious and sincere — and tired of being the youngest faces in the District’s jazz venues. So in September 2010, Russonello launched CapitalBop, a site he hoped would inspire newbie listeners to explore the clubs, restaurants, holes-in-walls and D.I.Y. performance venues where local jazz players continue to spill unheard sounds. (“Unmediated music thrives in unmediated spaces,” Russonello likes to say.)
CapitalBop sometimes shines its spotlight on CapitalBop, too, promoting the “D.C. Jazz Loft,” a monthly concert series curated by Russonello and Stewart. This weekend and next, CapitalBop will present three “Loft” concerts as a part of the annual D.C. Jazz Festival, whose organizers invited Russonello and Stewart into the fold last year in hopes of snaring younger crowds.
Sound familiar? In December, the Kennedy Center named 36-year-old pianist Jason Moran its new artistic adviser for jazz. It felt like a signal to a younger generation of jazz listeners. We care about you. Which is essentially the same message that Russonello and Stewart are sending on the street level.
“The Kennedy Center crowd is not underserved,” says Russonello. “And we’re glad they’re taken care of. But we’re concerned with all these kids who are looking for something gratifying and artistically resonant.”
Omrao Brown, owner of Bohemian Caverns, says he can see CapitalBop slowly spreading its influence on young ears across the city — which is nice, but not all that surprising. “In all reality, young people don’t really have an aversion to jazz,” Brown says. “They just haven’t really been exposed and/or marketed to.”
Stewart had to seek out his formative jazz experiences himself. He was still pretty new in Washington — enrolled at American University after his home town of Ocean Springs, Miss., was obliterated by Hurricane Katrina. One night, he wandered up the stairs of Twins Jazz for a set by saxophonist Sonny Fortune.
“He was playing burning tempo [stuff] and I had never seen anybody do that. It blew my mind,” Stewart says. “And there were only five people in the room.”