Until now jazz offerings have been marginal at Strathmore, but on this occasion it was the main focus, with performances on the concert hall stage and the main lobby, and workshops in the education center's classrooms and rehearsal studios dealing with improvisation, jazz rhythm, etc. CityDance contributed some workshops and performances in other areas of the building, while there was plenty of room for information tables for the other Strathmore participants to promote their programs.
As for the jazz itself, we heard performances from several local student jazz ensembles, Robert Frost Middle School, The Jazz Academy under Paul Carr, and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts directed by Davey Yarborough. The main attraction, however, was the Junior Mance trio who gave us a fine set in the main concert hall. At age 78 Junior shows no sign of slowing down, and after heaven knows how many performances still manages to make the music sound fresh. Accompanied by drummer Jackie Williams and Washington's own James B. King on bass, Junior took us through a program of standards: "Falling In Love With Love," Ray Bryant's "I Don't Care," "Emily," the Count Basie staple "Broadway," and, as a finale, some Ellingtonia, a solo rendition of "Single Petal of a Rose" followed by an up-tempo "A Train" that featured a bravura drum solo from Williams. Jackie is a highly sympathetic drummer who works with the Mance trio regularly, and King is a truly magnificent bassist--another of those Washington musicians who would be better known if he worked out of New York. As for Junior, what can you say? He has not stood still--his playing, while still firmly rooted in the blues, has taken on a slightly impressionistic sheen that keeps him in line with many younger performers, while avoiding excessive chromaticism. His touch on the ballads, particularly "Emily," was delicate, and he swung like the clappers on the up-tempo numbers. The one hour set sped by and was greeted enthusiastically by the audience.
Coming as it did on the weekend when the East Coast festival would have been held, this afternoon at Strathmore was some compensation. It was certainly a better way to spend President's day than a trip to Mattress Discounters!