On a recent pleasant summer evening, my wife and I found ourselves at Washington’s Southwest Waterfront listening to a free sunset concert by one of the fabulous jazz divas of our times, Washington’s Sharón Clark. Sharón, who packs important clubs from Broadway to Irkutsk and is frequently compared by critics to Sarah Vaughn, was performing before people who know and appreciate what a special singer she is.
Many in the audience were enjoying the delicious ribs served up by a nearby barbeque stand, and most knew at least one of the stellar musicians on stage. Sharón was joined by her long-time collaborators, Chris Grasso on keyboards, Tommy Cecil on bass, Lenny Robinson on drums, and sax-master Marshall Keys on alto. Another familiar Washington musician – drummer and trumpeter DeAndrey Howard – worked the equipment mixing the sounds perfectly. Everyone on stage had grown up and studied in Washington and near-by Baltimore before heading out around the world to play with some of the biggest names in contemporary music; and all were back in D.C. adding a special magic to the gentle Washington twilight.
There is nothing particularly noteworthy about folks enjoying an outdoor concert on a summer’s eve. Humans have been gathering together to listen to music for millennia, and, in doing so, have created the sorts of connections among themselves we now speak of as “social capital.” The warm communal vibe surrounding this patch of Washington waterfront is repeated whenever rich and poorporteños gather at a Buenos Aires milonga to enjoy tango; Bluegrass musicians bring their banjos and fiddles to a nearby Smokey Mountains general story to play together and tell fanciful tall stories; township marabi masters gather in the corner of a Cape Town sheeben; and, opera singers mysteriously descend on the same central Moscow coffee shop at a time appointed by some force greater than themselves. What makes such gatherings so important is that the musicians – no matter how accomplished and renowned – are creating a moment of beauty that is shared with a community.