TAKOMA PARK – On Sunday Takoma Park hosted its 22nd annual jazz festival. The two-stage, 12-act event showcased representatives from multiple genres, from traditional dixieland and bossa nova to modern go-go interpretations.
“We are promoting America’s unique music: music that connects people from around the world,” said Bruce Kohner, the president of Takoma Jazz Inc.
The Not So Modern Quartet, led by the 83-year-old Mike Ritter, performed an energetic set of dixieland jazz with an emphasis on the 1920s to 1950s eras. Ritter has been playing music for 76 years and achieved second place in a 1957 all-Army talent contest, behind a drummer for the legendary Count Basie.
“I inherited the group when the original leader died. I played upright bass for a while, and then the clarinet player died, so I moved to clarinet. I have been replacing those who have moved on.” Ritter commented, “I learned so many instruments because no one told me I could not.”
Elijah Jamal Belbed, a Silver Spring saxophonist, who was a sideman with famous D.C. musician Chuck Brown, led The Jo-Go Project. Brown was considered the father of go-go a D.C.-based genre of music that combines jazz, funk, R&B and hip-hop. Belbed has dedicated himself to preserving Brown’s legacy.
“Go-Go is a more contemporary style. It forced me to play less than bebop, and because there’s less focus on improvisation, there’s less room for error,” said Belbed.
Belbed often incorporates popular songs and TV show themes into his live performances. On Sunday, he played a go-go version of the “Super Mario” video game theme song, prompting chuckles from the audience and piquing the interest of those who grew up with the video game. “It all goes back to Chuck. He would play TV show themes and other familiar melodies.” Belbed said, “It is all about getting people interested in the music.”
The festival's headliner was Takoma Park vibraphonist Chuck Redd. Redd is most famous for being the featured vibraphonist for singer Mel Torme. He also performed with Dizzy Gillespie in Africa, played a recital at the White House for President Jimmy Carter with Barney Kessel and appeared at Carnegie Hall with Torme.
Redd’s set consisted of Latin-flavored music. The band stretched out these single pieces with each member taking improvised solos.
“Improvising is about listening in the moment, you try not to think, but there is always a system going in the background as you need to think about where the song is headed.” said Redd.