Gentrification threatens Washington, D.C. jazz and art, jazz musician and composer Jason Moran said at an event Tuesday in Copley Lounge.
Moran, a distinguished artist-in-residence at Georgetown University and the Kennedy Center musical advisor and artistic director of jazz, has composed soundtracks for six films including the 2014 movie “Selma.”
Associate Professor of the History Department Maurice Jackson joined Moran during the event, “DC Jazz: Stories of Jazz Music in Washington, D.C.”
The event was titled after Moran’s new book, which discussed music culture in the District. Curator of Music and Performing Arts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture Dwandalyn Reece moderated the discussion.
Moran said developers capitalize on D.C.’s artistic history, naming new buildings after artists like Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, even as they replace important cultural institutions with new apartments.
“Do we let cultural institutions like a club, I consider it an institution, do we let the club go away? Right, and then we forget it. And then maybe they build a high-rise there and they call it Ellington,” Moran said. “They call one of these buildings Coltrane or something like that. So they sell the idea of the culture, meanwhile wash it away.”
Washington, D.C., and specifically the U Street Corridor neighborhood, gained fame as a center of American jazz and black culture in the first half of the 20th century. Colloquially called “Black Broadway,” U Street was home to many famous black artists and intellectuals, according to Washingtonian. Jazz icons such as Louis Armstrong played on U Street during the height of its fame, Washingtonian reported.
New buildings on U Street, including an upscale apartment building called The Ellington, force people who traditionally created the renowned music scene of the city to leave, Jackson said.
“There are buildings going up everywhere, and people are being forced out,” he said, discussing the modern state of music in D.C.
Jackson said District schools suffered budget cuts that gutted music programs, further damaging D.C. arts.
“That is what is happening now, the idea of legislating out the music, and legislating out these things,” Jackson said. “What was first thing that the public schools did when the budgets got low? They took out music, and they took out PE.”
Moran said he struggles to reconcile the contrast between the Kennedy Center — a cultural icon of D.C. — and the threats to on-the-ground development of music in the District.
“It’s very frustrating sitting and working at a place like the Kennedy Center which is — our job at the Kennedy Center is to make sure that the culture is held and people are able to feel it from all around the world and people do look at the institution for us to do that,” Moran said. “But I also know that the root of our music evolves is on the ground.”
Jackson said his new book aims to contribute to cultivating a welcoming culture in D.C.
“With this book we hope it can recreate this city in a mold where black people really feel welcome,” he said.
Moran hopes musicians will continue to uphold and contribute to the District’s rich and historical music scene.
“I’m really hopeful that something will happen and musicians are fighting for some kind of way to ensure that the music is kept apart of the fabric of the city,” Moran said. “And the city owes it to the musicians who live here to create the culture that attracts people.”