Get your purple, green and gold beads out, get your krewe ready and have your handkerchiefs set to twirl in the air. That once-a-year power force phenomena known as Mardi Gras is arriving in Fairfax County.
“Let the good times roll” as the Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra, directed by Jim Carroll, provides high-velocity excitement at the George Mason University Center for the Arts with the music of New Orleans along with some special guests. Mardi Gras with the Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra is coming Saturday night.
Carroll sizes up the event as exploring “traditional jazz, New Orleans-inspired big band sounds, and the sounds of the second-line parades, as we celebrate the biggest party in New Orleans, Mardi Gras, with the best jazz musicians in the D.C. area.”
The jazz will be bold and honey-dripping. It will be a feast for both those deeply immersed in traditional jazz and newcomers alike. The merriment will be infectious.
In a recent conversation, Carroll’s passion for New Orleans jazz was clear. “New Orleans music comes right from the heart, and gets right to the heart of things. It’s soulful, conveying feelings of joy, sorrow, mourning, celebration, optimism, despair. And it is well over 200 years old and ever changing, vibrant and does not stand still. It is a blend of blues, ragtime, marches, church music and more.”
One of its features is that the music is based on musicians improvising together in unexpected directions. One musician, perhaps playing a trumpet, will play a recognizable melody or tune; then the other musicians devise around the first instrument.
Carroll is the director of jazz studies at George Mason University, and has performed, recorded and toured throughout the world. He also is connected with jazz programs in Fairfax County Public Schools. In March, he will judge the Chantilly Jazz Festival, the largest high school jazz fest on the East Coast.
The evening’s entertainment will feature jazz compositions associated with illustrious names such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Charlie Young, Tom Williams and more. There will be well-known song titles such as “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “St. Louis Blues,” and those less often heard such as “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans.” The soundtracks for the television show “Treme” or Woody Allen’s recent “Midnight in Paris” also may come to mind, with its marvelous evocation of Bechet’s “Si tu vois ma mère.”
Joining the Mardi Gras party will be the Capital Focus Jazz Band, directed by David Robinson. Currently in its 25th year, the group has performed all over the Washington, D.C., area, as well as at Preservation Hall in New Orleans The band draws from high schools and colleges throughout the D.C. area, including outstanding students from the George Mason University jazz program.
Robinson, an adjunct professor at Mason, is a traditional jazz expert who has performed with jazz bands and toured throughout the country. For him, “Mardi Gras with the MJO” will be a celebration of the music and sensibilities of Mardi Gras, a celebration of the rhythms of the city of New Orleans, including its resurgence since the fury and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Special guest vocalist Darden Purcell is a D.C.-based jazz vocalist and assistant director of jazz studies at Mason. A former U.S Air Force Band vocalist, she has been a featured soloist with big bands and small ensembles alike.
Purcell said the variety of programming for the evening will give the audience a taste of various jazz styles. “It will appeal to everyone,” she said.
She will perform several songs as a vocalist, including an intimate solo of “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” backed by piano.
So keep the spirit of jazz alive. Get ready for the triumphant sounds of the Big Easy, sashay down to the Center for the Arts, and have yourself some fun.