Silver Spring Jazz Fest brings music and unity to community

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If you were in or around downtown Silver Spring this past Saturday, then it's likely you heard a lot of great jazz music floating through the area.

That's because the 11thAnnual Silver Spring Jazz Festival took place in Veterans Plaza. The festival included acts like the Jazz Academy of Music, Marcus Johnson, the David Bach Consort, Elliot Levine, and headlining act the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Although the forecast said it would rain for most of the afternoon, the sunshine prevailed until shortly after 7:00 p.m., when a brief but nasty storm crept in. After a two hour break, things continued at 9:00 p.m. and most of the crowd returned.

Susan Hoffman, manager of Communications and Public Outreach for Montgomery County Recreation and the founder of the Silver Spring Jazz Festival, said putting this event together has always been high on her wish list.

“It was always a dream of mine when I was working in Silver Spring as we were redeveloping the area that someday we would have a jazz festival,” Hoffman said. “It’s one of my most favorite genres of music. So I had that conversation with Marcus Johnson, who is also our local jazz phenom, and who has performed in the festival every year.”

Hoffman said the festival continues to expand both in crowd size and acts they’re able to book. In its first year the festival was held in Fountain Plaza and 8,000 people attended. Last year 25,000 people showed up.

Years later, the festival was moved to a huge parking lot on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road before it was eventually moved to Veterans Plaza. Hoffman said each year businesses and restaurants remain packed during the festival, which makes it a win-win for the entire community.

“It's something now of course that the community is looking forward to every year and supports very, very well,” she said. “And we get people from the whole Metropolitan Washington area. What we were doing when we started doing all of these events was creating community where there had been very little for a long, long time. So even before the redevelopment we had summer concert series and we had the county Thanksgiving parade, and that will actually be this year, which will be the 17thanniversary of that. [The jazz festival] gets neighbors out and it gets friends out and people seeing each other and enjoying some really first class music.”

Each year Hoffman recruits some of the finest local jazz acts in the area and one big name headliner. Last year she booked Grammy Award-winner Branford Marsalis as the headlining act.

Aaron Martin II, a 21-year-old who lives in the area, said he loves how the festival brings everyone in the community together. Martin said people from any age can enjoy the music, even young folks who may not be huge jazz buffs.

“Once you get a chance to listen to the great jazz legends out there, you get a chance to know how beautiful it is to listen to the music,” he said.

Iz Neway, who was also enjoying the festival, said he loves the laid-back and relaxed atmosphere, despite the warm temperatures. “It's chill and very relaxing,” he said. “It’s pretty hot today, but the good music takes away from the heat. There’s a sense of unity and people coming together.”

Elliott Levine, who played at 4:30 p.m. and wowed the crowd with a seamless mixture of jazz, old-school R&B and contemporary music, played an hour-long set and was joined on stage by three backup singers, a great lead vocalist, and a full band.

In the past Levine played on Thursday nights in the Silver Spring weekly concert series, but playing at this year’s festival was somewhat of redemption for him as he was rained out two years ago. Levine is also a Silver Spring native, which he said makes playing the festival extra fun for him.

“The main basis is that I do improvisation and jazz background and I do a little bit of everything,” he said. “My basis and my background is in funk and R&B and old-school, but what I listen to is contemporary music...I love Silver Spring. I’m from here. I was born and raised here. I live here. It's were my neighbors are. It's where my family is. It's where my son's school friends are too.”



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