- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2016

Where is jazz in the District these days? On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, a Georgetown street corner was throbbing with it.

Travis Gardner, 32, wailed on his trombone while his godbrother, Bill Banks, 56, beat a set of drums. A bucket prominently displaying “Brass Connection Band” sat on the sidewalk as the duo filled the sunny streets with the sounds of swing.

Mr. Gardner and Mr. Banks are two members of the large family band that performs every day in various D.C. neighborhoods and venues. Mr. Banks said that sometimes as many as 10 uncles, nephews, fathers and sons play together. Other times, it’s just the two of them.

“We get out here and grind,” said Mr. Banks, the drummer and band manager. “We gotta get out here to live.”

With members in North Carolina and the District, the Brass Connection has played on streets and at clubs and private parties across the mid-Atlantic region. When they aren’t in the studio recording their second album, the troupe is rehearsing for its June 25 performance with the Chamber Dance Project. For the first time in its history, the band will play background for a hip-hop dance show.

It may be new for Brass Connection, but that kind of collaboration has kept the D.C. jazz scene alive.

SEE ALSO: D.C. jazz musicians fight to be heard as once-lively music halls shut down

District born-and-raised saxophonist Herb Scott is doing his part to make a home for jazz at Mr. Henry’s Restaurant, where he shares a residency with singer Aaron Myers. Together, they started a weekly jam there a year ago. Artists from around the city gather every Wednesday to revive the music of Count Basie, Glenn Miller and other classic jazzers.

Mr. Scott also reignited the “piano cuttin’” contests that swing king Duke Ellington made popular in the early 20th century. In one-on-one battles, the musicians improvise over several choruses, trying to outplay each other. Mr. Scott said that Ellington sharpened his signature style while competing against pianists from Harlem in the contests.

“If you weren’t good enough, you would be cut or they would cut in and start playing,” Mr. Scott explained.

Mr. Scott attributed the success of these collaborative endeavors to the onset of social media. Today, musicians keep in touch with each other and organize performances primarily via Facebook, Twitter and email.

“Prior to [social media], there was a lot of emphasis on club owners or record labels to be in charge of the promotion of the musician, and now we’ve kind of taken ownership of that,” he said. “We’re bypassing all of those middlemen.”

The jazz saw its rise in the 1920s as a rebellious outlet for 20-somethings looking for some fun after World War I. With its original audience mostly gone, jazz continues to find a sweet spot among younger generations.

Radio host Askia Muhammad of WPFW FM regularly interacts with listeners of his jazz-filled show, young and old.

“The original listeners are getting older, so their taste doesn’t change,” he said. “But some of the offspring of some of them are also listening. They bring a younger taste.”

Not only do younger audiences listen to classic jazz concerts at places like Blues Alley, they come out in droves for music that is more representative of their culture. Up-and-coming jazz fusion band Snarky Puppy packed the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club last month. The groove of cool, electric melodies over a swing beat drew in more than 600 people to each set.

Astha Shrestha, a 22-year-old box office worker at Bethesda Blues, said Snarky Puppy’s unique sound is “what’s bringing in the crowd again.”

“They have this extra something with their jazz,” Ms. Shrestha said. “They add a modern touch to their jazz, and I think that’s what the younger generation is interested in.”

A person’s age, race, socio-economic background and gender don’t matter when it comes to jazz, said the Brass Connection’s drummer, because music knows no bounds.

“You see homeless people and, you know, people that got money. They stand right next to each other and dance with each other,” Mr. Banks said. “When you hear the music, it don’t make a difference.”

Music lovers are encouraged to check out the D.C. Jazz Festival, which opens Friday and runs through June 19.

• Faith E. Pinho can be reached at fpinho@washingtontimes.com.

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