This column is written and sponsored by Arlington Arts / Arlington Cultural Affairs, a division of Arlington Economic Development.
One of Arlington County’s signature events, the 29th annual Rosslyn Jazz Festival draws thousands to hear internationally-renowned musical artists.
The Artists on this year’s roster are all rooted in the unique synthesis of sounds from the Gulf Coast that evoke jazz, blues, soul, funk and Caribbean genres: the Houston-based band The Suffers, Grammy-nominated New Orleans brass band Cha Wa, singer/cellist Leyla McCalla (formerly of the Grammy award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops), and D.C.’s go-go/jazz ensemble JoGo Project.
Presented by the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID) and co-sponsored with Arlington’s Cultural Affairs Division/Arlington Arts, the partnership harnesses the respective strengths of the locally-focused non-profit and Arlington County Government to maximum effect.
“Creating a vibrant arts and cultural scene is a core part of our work to make Rosslyn a more attractive place for both businesses and residents,” said Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn BID. “The Rosslyn Jazz Fest brings community together to enjoy music and culture in a way (and at a scale) that no other event in Arlington does; it has brought vitality and energy to Rosslyn for 29 years and we look forward to many more.”
Most of the on-the-ground logistics, such as permitting, promotion and vendor area coordination, are led by the BID. Using their formidable network of staff, volunteers and community connections, the BID transforms the three-acre Gateway Park and the surrounding thoroughfares into a safe, smooth-running festival-site, stocked with some of the area’s top food trucks with options to engage the entire family.
While the County had always provided production and marketing support, since 2001 the experienced programming team at Arlington Arts expanded their role to oversee all elements of the on-stage production and curating the musical line-up.
Re-envisioning the festival to highlight more national and international touring artists, attendance quickly rose from 1,200 to an average 7,000 annually.
“Like jazz itself the festival has evolved,” says Josh Stoltzfus, who programs the Festival, as Director of Cultural Development for Arlington Arts. “During the past several years, we’ve been incorporating a more diverse array of music to feature critically acclaimed global music, soul, funk and all manner of jazz-related expression.”
Now drawing upwards of 10,000 attendees when the weather cooperates, it’s not unusual to see audience members who travel from as far away as Philadelphia, Raleigh or Chicago for the event, all of which benefits Arlington’s restaurant and hotel industry as well.
Free and open to the public, this year’s Rosslyn Jazz Festival takes place on Saturday, September 7 from 1-7 p.m. at Gateway Park, 1300 Lee Highway (2 blocks from Rosslyn Metro, at the foot of Key Bridge).
For 2019, the Rosslyn Jazz Festival continues to pack a serious artistic wallop:
SPIN called them “the sort of neo-retro group you never knew music was so badly missing,” and NPR’s Bob Boilen wrote that “this band is on fire when it’s in front of an audience.” Their 2018 release, “Everything Here,” highlights their “Gulf Coast soul” sound, a mix of the different cultures and musical styles present around the Gulf Coast and the city of Houston, the band’s hometown.
Cha Wa — Mardi Gras Indian slang meaning “we’re comin’ for ya” or “here we come”– embodies the city’s street culture while adding a modern twist. With their ever-evolving sound, Cha Wa received a Grammy nomination in 2018 for their most recent album, “Spyboy,” which highlights their new horn section and vocals supplied by frontman J’Wan Boudreaux.
Boudreaux is the grandson of the most prominent Mardi Gras Indian today, Monk Boudreaux, the Big Chief of the Golden Eagles tribe. They’ll be playing at the Rosslyn Jazz Fest during their summer jazz festival tour that includes the Rochester International Jazz Festival, Telluride Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival and more.
“It sounds like she’s partly in the moment and partly looking beyond it, and seeing truths that we’ve missed,” says NPR’s First Listen. Leyla is a New York-born Haitian-American who sings in French, Haitian Creole and English, and plays cello, tenor banjo and guitar.
Her third solo album, “The Capitalist Blues,” was released in January. She calls this album her way of processing the current political environment. It has received praise from The Guardian, NPR and Popmatters.
Founded in 2014 by Elijah Jamal Balbed, JoGo Project is inspired by the musical stylings of Chuck Brown. A mix of jazz and go-go, the group performs throughout the DMV and has played at The Kennedy Center, Blues Alley, Funk Parade, H-Street Festival, Velvet Lounge, The Lincoln Theater and many others.
Click here for a Spotify playlist of the 2019 Rosslyn Jazz Fest artists.