For several years, I have tried to promote jazz in Washington. And even though my efforts don't seem to have made much difference, I do feel pride in associating myself with this wonderful art form.
But I still wonder whether I am just blowing into the wind. Sometimes it seems that Washington will never know how to appreciate anything because, basically, this is just a stale, gray-flannel Muzak town.
I know that's not fair. But I don't care. Jazz has not received a fair shake, either.
"After two years of great names and not-so-great attendance, the Kool Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center has been discontinued," Washington Post staff writer Richard Harrington noted on May 1, 1984. "The all star event, which took over the Kennedy Center's four concert halls and theaters for a noon to midnight marathon of jazz, drew crowds, but apparently not enough to warrant holding it another year."
Sad, but true. Washingtonians clamor for new things, but once they have them, they somehow let them tarnish. The Kool festival had been one of the city's most glamorous jazz events, yet one of the least successful at the box office.
But jazz fans -- being jazz fans -- did not give up and by the summer of 1985 they were boasting of the new Capital City Jazz Festival, a weekend extravaganza that was held at the Washington Convention Center. The event lost $8,000.
Now here we go again with another gamble. The second Capital City Jazz Festival, which takes place Thursday through Sunday -- gives us another chance to prove our love for jazz. (I don't think we will get many more chances, folks.)
Great jazz clubs have become few and far between in this town, and the cost of a really good night out has become prohibitive for all but the well-to-do.
Turn to radio station WPFW and you get a muted horn here and a piano stride there.
Although this listener-supported station does better than most, there will be nothing to brag about until jazz playing time has doubled.
Ultimately, the problem is with jazz itself. It just ain't for everybody. Hip people do jazz, cool people do jazz, bebop people do jazz. But if they don't show up this weekend, nerds will square dance at the jazz death knell.
Here's what's happening:
At 8 p.m. Thursday, a benefit concert will feature McCoy Tyner and Shirley Horn at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, at 35th and R streets NW. The event costs $25, and proceeds will go to the school, which needs community support more than you can know.
A youth jazz celebration, featuring free workshops, clinics and jazz exhibitions begins at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Duke Ellington School and a "Young People's" concert is set for 3:30 p.m. in the new auditorium.
At 5:30 p.m., the action moves from the school to the Washington Convention Center, where a "jazz marketplace" will be set up featuring recordings, videos, books, clothing and art. Yes, fans, jazz is a life style.
A concert at 8 p.m. will feature Tito Puente and his Latin Ensemble and Paquito D'Rivera's sextet. A midnight salsa party features Tulio Arias.
The Saturday show starts at 11:30 a.m. with more of the jazz marketplace. Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim hit the stage with "liberation music" at 2 p.m. An evening of soul begins at 8 p.m. with the Terrence Blanchard and Donald Harrison Quintet; Milt Jackson and Ray Brown All Stars and guests Little Jimmy Scott and Betty Carter trio.
Last -- but far from least -- a midnight jazz jam fete will feature Buck Hill, Andrew White, Keter Betts, Chuck Royal, Wallace Roney, Charles Covington, Hugh Walker, Charles Young, and my favorite, Marshall Keys.
Ticket prices range from $12 to $17.50.
As they say in the business: Be there -- or be square.