Great Arboretum Cookout Honors Washington State

June 29, 2011

On June 16, Honors Washington State Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) held their annual cookout under a tent in the Capitol Columns Meadow. This informal evening brings together a mix of Arboretum supporters, the business community and government as well as members of the Honored State’s delegation. FONA is a nonprofit organization that funds projects to increase the public’s awareness and enjoyment of the gardens and collections, advance vital scientific research and promote educational and public services. A key outreach program is the Washington Youth Garden where children and their families learn about the environment and nutrition as they grow vegetables and fruit in garden plots on the Arboretum grounds. A campaign is currently underway to ensure the survival of the spectacular azalea and boxwood collections which are jeopardized by reduced funding. [gallery ids="100176,100177,100178,100179,100180,100181,100182,100183" nav="thumbs"]

Susan Swartz Opening Reception

The National Museum of Women in the Arts held a select reception on June 17 to inaugurate Susan Swartz’s Seasons of the Soul which will run through Oct. 2.

The artist is a fervent environmentalist whose abstract landscapes reflect her special connection to the earth and its majesty. Her paintings and award-winning documentaries inspire environmental appreciation, respect and protection. Director Susan Sterling spoke of the museum as “a space where art and cause come together.” The artist is battling the effects of both mercury poisoning and Lyme disease, which have only intensified her commitment to protect the natural world. [gallery ids="100184,100192,100191,100190,100189,100188,100187,100186,100185,100193" nav="thumbs"]

Carol Joynt at Rivers

By now a pro on the book circuit, Carol Joynt was wearing her new hat having penned Innocent Spouse. She was the featured guest at the second “Meet the Author” luncheon and book signing at Rivers at the Watergate on June 21. Publicist Liz Sara introduced Carol who said she had lived “the American dream” before the rude awakening of the untimely death of her husband Howard and the harsh reality of crushing payments owed to the IRS. The former producer and “big game hunter,” snaring elusive guests for Larry King Live, spoke of her happy marriage and the joy of having a son Spencer. Mother and son persevered as Carol endeavored to run the legendary Nathan’s, unprepared for the rigors of the restaurant business. Her successful innocent spouse defense against the IRS was a milestone. After speaking, she took questions from both the luncheon goers and viewers of a life streaming broadcast before signing her well-received memoir. [gallery ids="100199,100200,100201,100202,100203" nav="thumbs"]

Italian Cultural Institute Presents The Betrothed

As part of the ongoing celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, on June 22 the Italian Cultural Institute presented a theatrical performance based on the landmark 19th century novel The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi) by Alessandro Manzoni. The performance, which combined narrative, music and dance was directed and performed by Massimiliano Finazzer Flory with introductory readings by David Gibbons, choreography by Gilda Gelati, prima ballerina with the La Scala Theatre Ballet Company in Milan, and the music of Verdi, Bellini and others performed by violinist Elsa Martignoni. A reception followed the presentation which was accompanied by English subtitles. [gallery ids="100204,100205,100206,100207,100208" nav="thumbs"]

Merage Foundation Eighth Annual National Leadership Awards

The Merage Foundation for the American Dream, dedicated to helping immigrants join mainstream America, in association with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, held its annual awards dinner at the National Press Club on June 14. Master of Ceremonies Dr. Donna Shalala, whose great grandfather emigrated from Lebanon, hailed Foundation Founder Paul Merage from Iran as “focused on a mission to give back to this country.” Director, President & CEO of the Wilson Center, former Congresswoman Jane Harman termed herself a “recovering politician” and said her late husband Sidney referred to himself as “my own invention.” Former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, who received the National Leadership Award in Public Service, said “immigration is the secret sauce to the success of the United States.” The pride was palpable as outstanding graduating university seniors were honored as American Dream Fellows and each awarded a $20,000 stipend to pursue their careers. [gallery ids="100194,100195,100196,100197,100198" nav="thumbs"]


June 23, 2011

Here’s something perfect: Shakespeare, music, The Castleton Festival Orchestra, and renowned Castleton director and conductor Lorin Maazel, all together at the Music Center at Strathmore June 30 to perform “Music Inspired by Shakespeare”.

The concert is a fundraiser for the Castleton Festival, which annually brings together young talented virtuosos and musicians of a superior grade for a season of 20 operas and concert performances around the Washington region, which, of course, includes Maazel’s Castleton Farms in Rappahannock County from June 25-July 24.

The evening at Strathmore promises to be special: Maazel himself will conduct the Castleton Festival Orchestra and the women’s voices of the Castleton Festival Chorus in a program of music inspired by Shakespeare , specifically plays like “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

Mirren and Irons are both veteran Shakespearean and stage actors as well as major league movie stars (Mirren won Oscars and Emmy’s for playing both Elizabeth 2 and Elizabeth 1). They will recite verses from “Misummer.”

If classical theater or music isn’t your bag, you might try some of the local stages, and performance arts centers. Something’s bound to please you.

For instance, if you just have to do the time warp again, in terms of oldies but goodies, then the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is for you.

Look here in the next few days: Monday, Hall and Oates, those 70s and 80s mysterious icons and superstars; Peter Frampton comes around June 23, probably with less hair than when he charmed a generation of slackers circa 80s and 70s. Going even further back, there’s a personal favorite, the hard-rocking “Credence Clearwater Revisited”, a treasure chest of 60s rock songs on June 24. Further back yet is “The Ultimate Doo-Wop Show”, June 25. It’s sort of like a class reunion with the music of the Drifters, the Platters, the Shantels and so on. Happy time travel.

The green witch is back at the Kennedy Center for a long broom ride with “Wicked”, which tells the story of the life and times of Glinda and Elfalfa in Emerald City and Oz in big, big Broadway musical style. A tough ticket, but a great, spectacular show with music by Stephen Schwartz
(“Pippin” “Godspell”) Now playing through August 21.

Ethan McSweeny is one of the Washington theater scene’s finest directors and he’s getting a chance to show it, not once but twice and one thing’s true: he’s not afraid of taking chances.

First off, he helmed “A Time To Kill”, an Arena Stage project which is an adaptation of John Grisham’s heated novel about race, the law and sundry other items with a bit cast, which is now winding up its run June 19. Last chance there. First chance to see McSweeny’s take on “The Merchant of Venice” begins June 21 for a nice long run through July 24 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall.

“Merchant” is an enticing project for actors—Portia, the merchant, Antonio and various suitors—and it’s often been controversial because of its romantic comedy touches mixed in with a revenge plot that tethers dangerously between bigotry and remarkable tolerance. Could be there’s a cross-pollination between the two plays with concerns about tolerance, ethnicity and so on? Who would have thunk it: Grisham next to the Bard.

A couple of unusual projects going on right now: there’s the Forum Theatre’s “bobrauschenbergamerica” by Charles L. Mee running through June 25 at the Round House Theatre’s Silver Spring location 8461 Colesville Road in Silver spring and there’s Scena Theatre’s producing of “Purge”, a new play by young Finnish playwright of Estonian roots, at the H Street Playhouse at 1365 H Street N. Robert McNamara directors, and the cast includes the gifted husband-wife team of Kerry Water sand Eric ZLucas and Colleen Delany through July 3.

We’re not done yet with Georgetown University Glass Menagerie project: it’s full-stage production of “The Glass Menagerie”, with Sarah Marshall as Amanda Wingfield, is back, at Arena Stage’s Mead Center through July 3.

Jamaican Women of Washington Tea

Jamaican Women of Washington (JWoW), an all volunteer organization of women dedicated to assisting underprivileged communities in the Caribbean and the DC area, held their 9th Annual Tea-Off to Good Health at the Four Seasons Hotel on June 12. With many men in attendance, the ladies heeded the request to don chic afternoon attire and hats.

John Schriffen of NBC4 News emceed the event with the theme “Hypertension: Believe the Hype, Prevention is Better than a Stroke” and noted that 26 percent of DC residents have hypertension. Jamaican Ambassador Audrey Marks said that, despite family obligations, she wanted to attend the tea to show her support for founder Dr. Jacqueline Watson and the mission of JWoW.

Honoree Jeffrey Thompson spoke of the enduring vision of Dr. Dorothy Height. Ambassador of Grenada Gillian Bristol was one of three finalists in the Hats Off Contest but graciously deferred to crowd favorite Tatjana Dale. [gallery ids="100058,100059,100060,100061,100062,100063,100064" nav="thumbs"]

Farewell to “Frog’s Leap”

June 20, 2011

Diplomatic author and former Georgetowner columnist Gail Scott hosted friends on May 22 as she bids farewell to her beloved “Frog’s Leap.” This 1864 Federal home at 29th & Q was immortalized in late Georgetown photographer Fred Maroon’s iconic image of the icicle-encrusted antique gas lanterns during a1976 blizzard which paralyzed the city for days. The property’ s name comes from the large copper frog statue playing his violin on a park bench in the walled garden. Guests enjoyed elegant treats prepared by the French Embassy chef and joined in an exuberant sing-along with Chilean Ambassador Arturo Fermandois, who has led two rock bands [gallery ids="102566,102567" nav="thumbs"]

Washington Humane Society Bark Ball

Given the vagaries of DC, Harry Truman recommended canine companionship and for the past 24 years that advice has been followed as the Washington Humane Society’s Bark Bark Ball draws ever larger crowds. At the Washington Hilton on June 4, assured four-footers led their black tie bedecked humans into an evening celebrating doggie splendor with silent and live auctions, dinner, program and dancing. The event supports adoption, humane law enforcement, foster care and a regional spay/neuter center among other services provided. The WHS is the only Congressionally-chartered animal welfare agency in the United States and the only open-access shelter in the Nation’s Capital. [gallery ids="100029,100030,100031,100032,100033,100034,100035,100036" nav="thumbs"]

DC Jazz Festival Kicks into Gear

June 16, 2011

Charles Fishman, the executive producer of the DC Jazz Festival, likes to compare jazz to basketball, a sport he loves.

“Watch a game sometimes,” he said. “You’ve got the basic positions: center, forward, guards, and they all have their tasks but operate as a team. Just so, a jazz trio or quartet works the same way. Everybody works off a basic theme, plays together, and then you improvise—like a great shooter, or dribbler or passer—off of that. It’s a team thing where individuals shine, and that’s what your solo is, a riff on what everybody’s working on. The first solo sort of sets the plate, and the next guy works off of that and incorporates and creates.”

Fishman is a huge Celtics fan, and he could probably talk about Red Auerbach and Bill Russell and the Celtic glory teams for hours on end.

If jazz is like basketball, then talking with Fishman about the festival, which kicked off this week and runs through June 13, is a little like jazz itself. The talk inevitably leads to the whys and wherefores of jazz, true stories and tall tales about the music and musicians. In the course of things, you know why you’re here, where you’re going and what you’re going to talk about—like knowing the lyrics to “My Funny Valentines,” then playing off the melody.

That conversation encompasses a lot for Fishman. He can talk jazz history from his longtime stint as Dizzy Gillespie’s manager. He can talk current news and he can talk jazz futures, and the DC Jazz Festival is one of the exemplary and characteristic events of the state of jazz and where it is going.

“The world of jazz today is different,” he says. “In a weird way, it’s sort of happening off the radar, but it’s one hundred percent bigger in terms of audiences and artist, not to mention the range of music and venues, than what it used to be. What you’re seeing now is the international explosion of jazz. It’s a brave, interesting new world, let me tell you. Jazz is being listened to and played in Latin America, in Japan, in the Middle East and Africa. Jazz is different, the music is more expansive.

“But then, it’s always been like that, jazz is fluid. It moves, it soars and it changes, and you can see that in the festival.”

This is a festival that, since it started out as the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival seven years ago, has grown like topsy to the point where an almost inevitable name change occurred last year. “We wanted a national, an international presence,” Fishman said. “It’s about the city, and we wanted the city to be presented as a center of jazz.”

DC is for Jazz Lovers

“One of the things we’ve always wanted to do is showcase Washington as a jazz city,” Fishman said. “It’s got such a rich tradition in the U Street area—back in the days of Ellington, the big bands, the big singers and performers who came here to the clubs and venues. We still have that today.

This year, with a slew of sponsors, one of the key components is Microsoft Bing—a search engine if you haven’t heard—which is joining the festival in bringing new musical education programs to the city and which will co-present the Jazz on the National Mall free concert on June 12, featuring Toby Foyeh and Orchestra Africa, Frederic Yonnet, a local favorite, the great Cuban singer Claudia Acuna, Roy Hargrove and the RH Factor, and the Eddie Palmieri All-Star Salsa Band.

Bing, which supports the festival’s year-round Roberta Flack Music Excellence Program, will also sponsor three master classes and a financial literacy workshop for professional musicians at the Bohemian Caverns, the “official” club for the festival.

As for presenting DC as a jazz town, there is the festival’s Jazz in the ‘Hoods program, being presented all over the city with 80 performances at 41 museums, clubs, restaurants, hotels and galleries, and featuring some 70 DC-based jazz groups. “It’s a chance to show off the city and what it is,” says Fishman. “This diverse city of long-standing cultural and jazz history… We have a lively jazz scene here, with lots of gifted, talented young players, which says a lot about what jazz is—a continuing, ongoing kind of music with a rich mentoring and educational component.”

You’ll get to sample jazz as it’s played in the neighborhoods, including Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, Downtown DC, Dupont Circle, Chinatown, the H Street Corridor, Georgetown, the U Street Corridor, Woodley Park and others.

For good jazz in this city, says Fishman, there are a number of standout venues: the Bayou—a new club on U Street—the Black Fox Lounge, Cashion’s, the Grill from Ipanema, Twins and Bohemian Caverns. Bohemian Caverns, a huge supporter and key venue for the festival, will feature Cyrus Chestnut June 3 and 4, Antonio Hart June 8 and 9, and the Heath Brothers June 10 and 11.

As usual, the Festival is not without its big headliners. Bobby McFerrin, a multi-talented, big-name performer with a huge pop hit (“Don’t Worry Be Happy”) to his credit will be at the Warner Theater June 11, performing with the Howard University Afro Blue Reunion Choir.

As always, the festival will pay tribute to legendary performers. This year, two life time achievement awards will be presented, to the brilliant saxophonist Jimmy Heath and the incomparable Puerto Rican pianist Eddie Palmieri. Both men have left a legacy of teaching, creativity, composition and respect. “These two men have dedicated their lives to jazz as an art form, educational tool and unifying force,” Fishman said. Palmieri is a nine-time Grammy winner noted for his unique blend of jazz and Latin rhythms, with a career spanning 50 years as a composer, pianist, leader of famed salsa and Latin bands and smaller ensembles. Palmieri will be part of the free Jazz on the National Mall concert June 12.

Jimmy Heath is the second oldest brother of the legendary Heath Brothers. He’s a major composer, artist, performer, mentor and jazz icon who has performed on over 100 recordings with his own group and with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Think jazz isn’t hip or doesn’t hop? Check out the DC Jazz Loft Series, with edgy new national jazz bands performing at such eclectic sites as Red Door, the Fridge (part art gallery, performance space, and classroom and music venue at Eastern Market) and Subterranean A near Logan Circle.

Concluding the festival will be “A Night in Treme: The Musical Majesty of New Orleans” at the Kennedy Center, with the HBO Series’ star Wendell Pierce, the Rebirth Brass Band, Dr. Michael White, trombonist Big Sam Williams and trumpeter James Andrews.

“It’s grown, no doubt about it,” Fishman said about the festival. “But you can see what a world it encompasses. There’s so many different kinds of music we now call jazz, and it originated with the legendary pioneers like Gillespie, the Duke and the Count, Bird, Miles, Monk.”

When you listen to Fishman, sitting in his office—which is more like an improvisational shrine to Jazz and Dizzy and clutter—you feel a lot of love for the music. He’s like John the Baptist for the great American musical invention.

We talk about the neighborhood, we told stories about concerts we’d attended over the years, about the great tribute concert to Elllis Marsalis two years ago at the Kennedy Center: “That was maybe one of the best all-time concerts, period,” said Fishman.

And there’s Moses, Fishman’s six-year-old son, a preternaturally charismatic boy who may one day run the festival. “He’s taking piano lessons now,” Fishman said proudly. “He gave up the drums.” For a parent, even one as musically inclined as Fishman, a kid giving up drums can’t be all that bad.

For a complete list of performances, venues, times and dates, jazz buffs should go to the festival website at or pick up a festival program guide which can be found all over Washington.
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