Two Washington jazz singers were featured at the Fourth Annual Women's Jazz Festival in New York. The week-long event kicked off at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park with Melba Liston and the Harold Mabern Trio, with a feature spotlight on Ruby Hays, an Arkansas native who has been singing in the metropolitan area for the last six years. The 25-year-old government worker comes strongly out of the Bessie Smith, blues influence.
Gail Dixon, who books and promotes the jazz programs at Mr. Y's in Southeast, performed at a big band workshop at New York's Jazz Gallery, with other "New Voices of '81." Dixon, who is heard occasionally at Mr. Y's, isn't even sure that she fits the classic "jazz singer" mold. "It's what I aspire to be," she explains, "but I think of myself more as a ballad singer, touching and sensitive. I love ballads."
Dixon, 34, also started the Ladies of Jazz, a local nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization that benefits area musicians and their families in times of financial trouble. The Ladies -- who include Mary Jefferson, Vi Waters, Shirley Horne and former WMAL anchorwoman Anne Sawyer -- "started out as a support group in which we liked to share reminiscences and experiences. Now, we try to be there to help people in small ways, such as getting things that they need and might not be able to afford because of illness."
Dixon is known to frequent other area jazz clubs, inviting visiting talent to Mr. Y's Sunday morning breakfast/jam sessions, which provide young local musicians a chance to meet and talk to professionals in their field. "To most of [these kids], they're just a picture on an album. This way they get to see them up close."