Talking to the founder of D.C. jazz rag Capitalbop

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Capitalbop helps the jazz-unaware realize D.C.'s scene is alive and well. Created last September by D.C. native Giovanni Russonello, the online publication not only reports on the happenings of the D.C. jazz scene but also hosts a fair share of events, including having a hand in the upcoming annual D.C. Jazz Fest. I recently spoke with Giovanni about the site’s formation, the leverage of the word “festival” in the jazz community, and which musicians sound like No Age on jazz steroids.

Where did the idea of Capitalbop come from?
Basically the site was first, which came out from just walking around D.C. and realizing people weren’t at jazz shows. Not to say all the shows, but a lot. There was/is such great music and a much more vital jazz scene than almost any other city in America. Friends of mine, friends of my parents, people of all generations would ask if there was a jazz scene in D.C. and I would be like “yeah, quite a large one.” So obviously there was disconnect between what people knew and what was going on. I decided during my last year of college that when I move back I will do this thing [Capitalbop] and I did. It is picking up. A certain segment of the population is interested in it, especially the musicians and people who know them. The question now is how to make it more integrated into everyone’s browsing activity of D.C. blogs.
Capitalbop has held a series known as the Jazz Loft Series at the Red Door [a local warehouse in Chinatown], which is know closing do to condo development. How did the idea of the series come about?
Basically the Jazz Loft Series came about because I knew about the Jazz Lofts that had gone on in Manhattan in the 1950/60s and the free jazz era of the 1970s. The first couple decades of it were just when people had lofts in Manhattan and musicians could come hangout after the gigs and have a completely different vibe since they weren’t performances first of all. They were musicians and friends hanging out. They were laidback without any expectations, except maybe those put on each other by the musicians, which would be to do something new and exciting. It was tearing down the walls and about having a community space. We wanted to recreate that. In the 1970s they were more didactic and had a wider community feel, where they would have workshops and jam sessions. We decided to be somewhere down the middle. We would have audiences, we would have donations, and we would have all different types of music. Bebop, free jazz, electronic-metal jazz fusion, all of that. We would also have time set aside for jam sessions. We’ve had straight ahead jam sessions and when we pick up in July we’re thinking more free-oriented. It is more in the embryonic stages right now.
Capitalbop is doing a Loft Series for the upcoming D.C. Jazz Fest. What exactly is the Jazz Fest?
Jazz Fest is a weird amorphous thing. There are no grounds and it is thirteen days with maybe three shows put on. What is this festival? It’s been fortified immensely by this thing Jazz In The Hood that has been around for a few years. So a lot D.C. Jazz Clubs and shows pretty much decided to be part of Jazz In The Hood, which is saying for the two weeks we will have the Jazz Fest and Jazz In The Hood on our monikers. D.C. Jazz Fest lets you do your own thing in terms of financing and such, but they help by promoting and putting it in their program.
How did you go about finding/getting the festival’s acts?
When you say you are with a festival with jazz musicians it is almost sort of the apex because people don’t really get excited about jazz in the U.S., which is very weird. Innovative, modern musicians really do better in Europe. So the way to get people interested is to do a festival. People need some silly insularly draw. They think it is going to be really cushy and be taken care of as oppose to a normal gig. So we had to kind of be like “yes, this is part of a festival but we are not getting any money, in fact we will probably lose a little money.” We don’t really have enough money to make it a real festival, but to their credit the musicians were willing to work with us and commit to coming to this thing, which is a lo-fi operation. I think a lot of them did it because they realized yes, it’ll be an underground thing but one that is going to be lively and vibrant.
What would you recommend for three cannot be missed shows of the D.C. Jazz Festival?
In the jazz community Treme has become a huge thing, which is a cool show. The Kennedy Center is hosting “A Night in Treme” on June 13. That is one I would put on the list. Then the JD Allen show at Sub A on June 11 [part of the Jazz In The Hood Series] because I firmly believe what we are doing is probably the most exciting thing, but that is my bias and maybe not one worth quoting. Number three is Cyrus Chestnut on June 4. In the 1980s and early 1990s a neo-classist breed of jazz musicians came up. It actually contributed to sort of the recodification that jazz is a museum piece and that it is something maybe young people shouldn’t necessarily connect with, which was a problem. But it also turned out some awesome musicians who turned out a higher level of what was being created in the 1950s/1960s. Cyrus Chestnut was one of them and is also a piano player who just has a lot of innovation and is totally mind-boggling. One of my favorite piano players in the world. He is playing at Bohemian Caverns, which if anyone hasn’t gone should go. It is a beautiful space with a lot of history. It is fascinating.
What musicians or groups would you considered the most innovative or interesting in the current jazz scene?
Well Darcy of Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society is high up there. Fight The Big Bull is starting to get renowned nationally as well. One of the bands playing in our festival series, Darius Jones Trio is really incredibly innovative. In a real jazz way since they are tethered to the deep tradition. That sounds too restrictive actually. They are more rooted in the traditional way that uses a lot of ideas of playing with tone. Darius Jones is in Little Women, which are basically like a Noise Punk band, influenced by Free jazz. I think it is guitar, drums, and saxophone. They are crazy. Walloping, like No Age but on jazz steroids. Which is you know cool. Take that saxophone player, put him in his own trio and in the case of his debut, with free jazz greats like drummer Bob Moses, pianist and Diddle bow player Cooper Moore. A Diddle bow is this one-stringed instrument. So you get the picture. It is wild Free jazz. I know Darius Jones has played concerts before in D.C. where a lot of young people have come out. And it has been like jazz for a lot of the hipster crowd to dip their toe in, but they’ve come out being like “whoa that connected with me and I don’t really know why.” So that is going to be a great show […] Man there is a lot.
So there is a pretty vibrant underground scene?
There is hugely thriving underground scene. The great thing about New York is that it meshes and melds with the aboveground scene. The influence of hip hop has taken on some really interesting forms in modern jazz. In that it is really groove-based and not a lot of “ding ding ding”. What there is some pulsating urban sounding thriving music that people who listen to pop, hip hop, and R&B can really connect with. Indie rock is doing the same thing. Seeping its’ way into the jazz category. In New York you don’t really need to draw any lines. As you get younger and younger with the musicians there you see that there are no dividers anymore.
D.C. Jazz Fest runs from June 1-13. For more information check out Capitalbop or D.C. Jazz Fest.