The District of Columbia, as told by jazz
| Podcast by McKinnon de Kuyper, Story by Nokuthula Wathi |
U-Street corridor jazz clubs gave rise to the music that defined a generation and a neighborhood. Identified as the nation’s largest urban African American community in the mid-1900s, the music in the clubs exemplified the people’s struggle.
There were many simultaneous developments of jazz in other American cities, such as New York and New Orleans. However, Washington, D.C. was one of the prominent centers as far back as the 1800s.
Dr. Sabiyha Prince, cultural anthropologist and scholar said that the impacts of gentrification on the U Street area left the African Americans a minority and those demographic changes had an influence on the performance culture.
Although the population on U Street is no longer primarily black, there are still live jazz performances at clubs like Blues Alley and Bohemian Caverns. Also, this club landscape has expanded to new spots like Sotto, a relatively new underground bar on 14th street.
Sotto club manager Mike Rosato, said that the club hosts four nights of live music every week since its opening in March.
Even though club Sotto is a basement club the fame of the building it on makes it more appealing and Rosato reminisce on the buildings past jazz glory days. “It was the place to go and the stop to make,” he said.
Noah Getz, saxophone player and musician in residence at American University, is a jazz enthusiast. He started playing the saxophone as a student in middle school, initially inspired by the music of the 1950s that his father would play.
“I was really interested in jump music, that is jazz-inspired, but it was maybe more of a popular music that lead into the saxophone playing in rock and roll the 1950s,” said Getz.
Joe Ozment, professor in the Arts Department at American University, has been performing in and around D.C. for 20 years. Ozment noted that it is rare that a neighborhood, after being gentrified, would still be able to come back and resume its artistic character.
“It was really gone for a long time maybe a couple of decades. But it didn’t die and it’s happening again,” Ozment said.
Jazz still remains popular in U Street to this day. And though it was born out of segregation and remained authentic for many decades, a few years of gentrification gave rise to the new sounds illuminating out of U street jazz clubs.