Swingin' Through the Music Capital

Sunday, January 21, 2007

WHERE: Alexandria and Washington.

WHY: A lizard king in Old Town, de-funked venues and a military man.

HOW FAR: About 17 miles, or one hour with stops.

In Washington, the military and presidents seem to garner all of the big monuments, while the area's musicians are reduced to the record bin. But not always. On a magical tour of musical landmarks, fans can pay homage to local performers, and as a bonus, we've supplied a playlist to help re-create that live experience (see map for song selections).

Let's start at the end, beautiful friend. The Alexandria waterfront was a favorite haunt of Jim "The Lizard King" Morrison. Slither down to the dock behind the Torpedo Factory Art Center and look out over the Potomac. "Horse Latitudes" is the only Doors song believed to be based on a poem Morrison wrote while attending what was then George Washington High School in Alexandria.

Ice cream parlors don't sound very punk, but in the early 1980s rockers Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins used to scoop together at the Georgetown Haagen-Dazs (Cappuccino's Pizza now inhabits that site). Rollins later joined Black Flag, and MacKaye co-founded local label Dischord Records. Decades later, Dischord is still churning out albums in Arlington.

Make your way east to the West End for a quick stop at 2129 Ward Pl. Can't find it? All that remains of Duke Ellington's home is a commemorative plaque listing that address. (Hint: It's next to the post office's drop boxes.) In 1923 the budding jazz pianist and composer split town to form a band in Harlem, N.Y. Ellington called it the Washingtonians. Years later, the favor was returned with the naming of the District's Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

In Adams Morgan, drop by Crooked Beat Records and ask owner Bill Daly about how hard-core/reggae outfit Bad Brains used to play upstairs in the early '80s. Then have him crank up "Banned in D.C." for a flashback moment.

Farther east, on U Street, descend into the basement of the Bohemian Caverns jazz club and you'll quickly see why it's called "the Cave." The stalactites were one of the club's signature features during U Street's "Black Broadway" heyday, as were such A-list musicians as Ellington. Now, the Caverns mixes up the music format, but co-owner Omrao Brown says "every Friday and Saturday night is straight-ahead jazz."

Fast-forward to the 1970s, when funk band Parliament renamed D.C. the C.C. -- the Chocolate City. Washingtonian Chuck Brown busted go-go loose at the Maverick Room in Northeast, but before you thump and boom your way over there, note that the club has been demolished.

There's more go-go by Union Station. Homegrown acts such as Brown, Rare Essence and Trouble Funk pumped it up and dropped the bomb at the Washington Coliseum. The venue is now an indoor parking lot, but ask the attendant if you can peek inside.

For a swan song, march over to Southeast to the childhood residence of John Philip Sousa, who composed such famous tunes as "Stars and Stripes Forever." His house has a plaque, but wander over to the Marine Barracks Annex to see his official statue. He was a military man, after all.

-- Scott Elder

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