REACH Report: ‘Spotlight on Jazz’ Events at The REACH at The Kennedy Center

DCMTA joined the teeming crowd at the Kennedy Center’s “unprecedented new expansion,” the REACH, on the second day of a 16-day multi-genre festival to check out the spotlight on jazz. From the morning John Coltrane-Inspired Jazz and Meditation Service, Church of Coltrane to the evening performance of Jason Moran & the Bandwagon with Kelela, the music invigorated attendees and infused the festival with a soundscape that complimented the new space and left the ear anticipating the future of jazz at the REACH.

Church of Coltrane Jazz and Meditation Service. Photo by Jati Lindsay.

Brandee Younger: Music of Alice Coltrane and Jason Moran & The Bandwagon with Kelela evolved as the highlights of the spotlight on jazz events. E. J. Strickland on drums, bassist Michael Olatuja, and tenor saxophonist Chelsea Baratz joined harpist Brandee Younger in a spiritual, devotional, and soulful rendition of compositions by or for Alice Coltrane, the wife of John Coltrane. Younger’s presentations of Alice Coltrane’s “Blue Nile” and “Journey in Satchidananda” as well as “Games” from Dorothy Ashby’s 1968 album “Afro-Harping” punctuate not only the beauty of the jazz harp but also the urgent need to pull the harp from the margins of jazz bands.

Younger’s quartet performed to capacity in the Studio K, adorned with five rows of overhead track lighting with spotlights, good acoustics, and a jazz club vibe. The blue and red lighting made the curtains adorning the wall add a cabaret nuance, somewhat foreshadowing the cabaret-style seating that the jazz performances will evolve to after the festival. The performance of Younger’s quartet set the bar high for future jazz performances that are slated for the Studio K.

But if attendees could not gain access to Studio K for Younger’s tribute to Alice Coltrane, the REACH Plaza MainStage provided ample space for Jason Moran & The Bandwagon with Kelela. Rectangular cardboard blue boxes provided the seating on the plaza while the adjacent grassy knoll invited supine sprawling under the setting sun and burgeoning night sky.

And what a treat this performance was as Moran on piano and electric keyboards; one of the best jazz drummers in the business, Nasheet Waits; and bassist Tarus Mateen joined vocalist Kelela (a Washington, DC native now based in Los Angeles) for a medley of Kelela’s tunes that explore the dynamics of love and breakup. Kelela’s fans commandeered the front row and cheered her on as the crowd became familiar with a locally grown talent whose star is rising.

Kelela on the REACH Plaza Mainstage. Photo by Jati Lindsay.

One goal of the REACH is to make the space “inclusive, interactive, and accessible.” Our day at the REACH confirmed that it delivers on its promise. Despite all of the indoor jazz events reaching capacity, thereby volunteers having to turn away some attendees, these performances were simulcasted on screens at the REACH Plaza Mainstage outdoors.

From the upper lawn of the REACH, the Potomac snakes like a dark ribbon with the skylight of Rosslyn providing artful illumination. Turn around, and Roy Lichtenstein’s “Brushstroke,” relocated from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, teases the skyline and your eye. The feeling of escape pervades as you process the logistical and financial feat that the opening of the REACH represents. What a glory and privilege it is for the Kennedy Center not only to envision this space but to make an ongoing commitment to expanding the jazz program and the arts in a place that feels inviting and rich with possibility.

The multi-genre The REACH Opening Festival runs through September 22, 2019, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at 202-467-4600 or toll-free at 800-444-1324, or go online.