Renowned Local Jazz Artist Heads DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

D.C.-based artist Aaron Myers was appointed the new executive director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities in May — and hasn’t looked back since. 

The renowned jazz vocalist, pianist, educator, and activist has played the piano since he was three. He became passionate about music through his church and family, and said he “greatly benefited from having music in public school.” 

Myers’ grandparents were older and gravitated toward jazz music. His mother was a DJ while she attended college, so she played records from Funkadelic, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and the Isley Brothers when Myers was young.

Myers also had less conventional influences. “I think the cartoons I watched growing up gave me a stronger jazz influence, when you think of everything from the Flintstones, to Bugs Bunny, or Tweety, those were some of the best big band numbers and straight ahead jazz you’ll ever hear,” he added. “I always say that my heart, my being is gospel, [but] my work, my love, my passion is jazz.” 

Myers has a deep understanding of the city’s cultural landscape and diverse neighborhoods. He’s been active in the arts community, serving as the artist-in-residence at the now-closed Black Fox Lounge, Mr. Henry’s Restaurant, The Eaton, and more. 

When asked what makes him passionate about the city, Myers said it’s the Blackness. “I feel safer, I feel more accepted, I feel more seen,” he said. “I look at the District government, and [the] city council and mayor who look like me, in similar age ranges, which by default causes and encourages business leaders to take the thoughts and ideas of young African American people more seriously.” 

Myers also mentioned how he sees a White population that doesn’t seem to be intimidated by Blackness and seems to understand what privilege is. “I saw more White people in this area try to use their privilege to share equity and to do good versus what I have seen in other spaces, including Los Angeles,” he said. 

Myers has lived in Los Angeles, worked in Florida and is originally from Texas, but has felt more at home in D.C., citing how he feels “encouraged to be authentic” here. 

Myers finds that D.C. is also a sacred space for those who identify as LGBTQ. He’s not wrong —according to a 2019 article in The Washington Blade, Washington, D.C. does have the highest LGBTQ population in the U.S. Myers feels comfortable here because of that fact. 

From a jazz and live music standpoint, there’s more space to be entrepreneurial in the District. Myers said he could do jazz in New York and make $40 a hit or do jazz in Los Angeles and wait for someone to die so he could get their spot because they kept it for years. 

“When I started at the Black Box Lounge, it had been open three days,” he said. Myers ended up remaining there for five years as a resident artist. 

Myers is also the founding Board Chair of the Capitol Hill Jazz Foundation. Herb Scott, who founded the initiative, asked Myers to chair. There were spaces Scott saw that were utilizing the artistic expressions of jazz artists and other artists to their benefit, but jazz artists weren’t really getting the support they needed.  

“What I wanted to do when I was on the board as chair was to expand equity within the jazz community,” Myers said. “It was my goal as an artist myself, and as part of the foundation, to express that jazz is a multi-generational genre that was being played and enjoyed by young people.” 

Myers is also passionate about the importance of arts programs in area schools. Without them at every school in D.C., you won’t have an audience that will appreciate, or artists knowing they can aspire to a career in the arts. You’ll not have artisans knowing that their crafts could have support of the expression of art, in all senses. 

“I would much rather a young person pick up an instrument than a gun,” Myers said. He’d rather see young people know they can express their frustrations, or question and push back through their art rather than drugs, violence, or the like. 

“I think [we should] push as a community to encourage council members and those of us who work in the public sector to have fully-funded art programs in all the schools, so those young people have the same advantages that most of us had when we were in school,” he added. 

The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities is a grant-making organization that issued over 1,400 grants last year ranging from $5,000 to over $500,000. “We serve a purpose within the arts and entertainment field in Washington, D.C.,” Myers said. The Commission’s grantees have gone on to present plays, paint murals, write, make great music, and display multiple other types of art. 

Myers’s goal at the Commission is to communicate with his fellow directors and members of the private sector about ways they can support the creative economy and creatives in D.C. “In a few years’ time, we would be known as the District of Creatives and seen as the creative capital of the country,” he added. 

The Commission is currently working on a music census, which will be the first of several surveying projects (including photography, art design, fashion, the humanities, and more). His goal over the next two years is to use the data to quantify the tax impact that the creative sector has on the District’s economy and what the private sector and D.C. can do to create an environment for competition.  

“So, when we start to issue grants from the Commission, issuing [them] to do things that could not be done without us,…. I think that it’s my responsibility to ensure that as we’re issuing grants, it’s done equitably and fairly,” Myers said. 

You can catch Myers at the DC Jazz Festival September 4 at Union Stage from 10-11:30 p.m. 




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