Takoma Park is not just for folkies

BY GILLIAN MORLEY • PHOTOS BY ERIC BOND

Jazz lives in Takoma Park. Hundreds of jazz fans gathered at the 19th Annual Takoma Park Jazzfest to listen to national and local artists as they celebrated this year’s theme, “Women in Jazz.”

This year’s event featured over 60 vendors and 12 jazz acts, including headliner, the Bria Skonberg Quintet.  The musicians performed on two stages, the Gazebo Stage and the Willow Stage.

Other groups included the Silver Spring International Middle School Jazz Band, Hokum Jazz, Harp 46 and the Karen Lovejoy Group.

Each year the festival’s organizers choose a theme for the event, this year featured female artists.  April Vega of Harp 46 praised the free festival for their decision to celebrate women musicians.

“For whatever reason it is harder for women to get noticed and get taken seriously,” Vega, 34, said. “So to have a a community based festival that supports women in the genre is so important.”

Vega, a University of Maryland alumna, plays the harp in an untraditional jazz band with her husband, Nuc Vega, on percussion, and brother-in-law, Posido Vega, on bass.

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Vega emphasized the importance of keeping jazz alive within the community.

“It would be a real shame to relegate it to the academy and put it out of reach of everyday people,” Vega said. “To have it free, to have it on the ground and in the neighborhood is just so important.”

Host of the Gazebo Stage and spoken word artist, Keren Sheffield said she felt jazz was the “essence of America.”

Sheffield, nicknamed the Empress of Jazz, believes Jazzfest is an important community event for people to come see live music and unplug from their computers.

“So much of our stuff is on the internet and you gotta down load it and upload it and put an earphone in it.  The importance of keeping alive the festival and the community is so people can come out and you don’t have to google it to listen,” Sheffield said.

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The community responded to the festival positively with hundreds of new and old jazz fans coming out to enjoy the festivities.

Brenda Jackson, a 30 year resident of Washington, D.C., has been attending the festival for the past few years.  She said she was excited to hear all the different female musicians.

“I try to come every year to because I live close by,” Jackson said. “I enjoy the festivities and the music and I like to try different foods.”

Jazz fan, Derrick Adams, said he would definitely encourage others to attend the festival next year.  The Silver Springs resident said he liked the “laid back, family friendly atmosphere.”

Although the festival seems to go off without a hitch each year, Takoma Park Jazzfest member of the board, Joan Van Blake, said a lot of work goes in to planning the event.

Van Blake’s role is to attract vendors to the event.  She is drawn to vendors who make their own pieces.  Vendors at the event sold homemade pottery, jewelry and other crafts.

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Between finding acts and vendors and coordinating with local law enforcement and transportation, the small volunteer organization dedicates great deal of time to arrange the festival.

“It is a completely volunteer organization that runs this program and it is a very small volunteer group and it is a challenge to put on a program of this scale with so few people,” Van Blake said.

Despite a small organizing committee, the festival attracts hoards of area residents to the streets of Takoma Park.  Vega expressed her gratitude for the organizers of the festival.

“I love this festival and every year I am impressed with the commitment of the volunteers,” Vega said. “The scheduling and preparation that it takes to put on something like this is just phenomenal.”

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