Jazz at Georgetown

Leon Robbin Gallery

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Georgetown has hosted some of the biggest names in jazz in the last century, including Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, and Mary Lou Williams. This exhibition gives viewers a glimpse of the various people, places, competitions, and concerts which brought jazz to the hill.

"DC Jazz" book

DC Jazz: Stories of Jazz Music in Washington, D.C

Georgetown history professor Dr. Maurice Jackson and historian Blair A. Ruble co-edited the book DC Jazz: Stories of Jazz Music in Washington, D.C., which includes a chapter by GU Music professor Anna Harwell Celenza, The book was published by Georgetown University Press in 2018.  

Photo of Jason Moran playing piano

Promotional Photo of Jason Moran

Jason Moran, Georgetown University Distinguished Artist in Residence

In 2017, jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran was named Georgetown’s distinguished artist in residence. Since 2014, Moran has served as the musical advisor for jazz at the Kennedy Center, and is on the faculty at the New England Conservatory. The photo on the left was taken at Moran's presentation "Exploring American Classics" at the Davis Performing Arts Center on December 7, 2017.  

  • Left photo credit:  Kuna Malik Hamad/Georgetown College
  • Right photo credit: Clay Patrick McBrider

Photo of Blues Alley Jazz Club

The Blues Alley

The Blues Alley in Georgetown (located off Wisconsin Avenue) has been a mainstay of the Georgetown jazz scene since it opened in 1965. Over the years, the venue has hosted the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Earl Hines, Charles Mingus, Oscar Peterson, Wayne Shorter, and Sarah Vaughan, among many others.

  • Photo credit: Jayme Kurland

Photo of Duke Ellington School of the Arts

The Duke Ellington School

Established in 1974, The Duke Ellington School of the Arts is a public high school dedicated to music and arts education. Their campus is located just north of Georgetown's campus, at 35th Street and R Street.

  • Photo credit: Jayme Kurland

Photo of Pearl Bailey receiving her honorary degree from Georgetown

Letter excusing Pearl Bailey from class, signed by President Ford

Singer Pearl Bailey (Georgetown University Class of 1984)

At the age of 67, singer and actress Pearl Bailey graduated from Georgetown in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in theology.  Bailey began her career as a jazz singer in clubs in New York before her acting and popular singing career took off.  During commencement, Georgetown President Timothy S. Healy, S.J., called Pearl up to the stage.  After giving a brief address, she ended by singing a cappella: "Nobody can do it for you but you . . . All your dreams will simply be pinned on you."

A letter from former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford to Georgetown Provost J. Donald Freeze, S.J., dated August 26, 1983, explains an upcoming class absence for Ms. Bailey.  It took Pearl longer than the typical four years to graduate because she had to juggle her studies with various working and charitable commitments, such as one with former President and Mrs. Ford in Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 13, 1983.

  • Pearl Bailey receiving her honorary degree from Georgetown University, May 22, 1977
  • Letter excusing Pearl Bailey from class, signed by President Ford, October 13, 1983

Advertisement for 1960 Jazz Fest

Poster for 1960 Jazz Fest

Program for 1960 Jazz Fest

GU's Intercollegiate Jazz Festival '60, featuring Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond

In 1960, Georgetown hosted its first Intercollegiate Jazz Festival for top student ensembles across the U.S. For this inaugural event, noted jazz pianist Dave Brubeck(1920-2012) and saxophonist Paul Desmond (1924-1977) headlined and judged the student competition.

  • Advertisement for "Intercollegiate Jazz Festival," The Hoya, April 9, 1960
  • Poster for Georgetown's first jazz festival ('60) featuring Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond
  • Program for Georgetown's first jazz festival ('60) featuring Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond

Hoya Article for 1961 Jazz Fest

GU's Intercollegiate Jazz Festival '61, featuring Dizzy Gillespie

For Georgetown's second Jazz Festival, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie (1917-1993) performed and served as a judge for the student competition.

  • "Gillespie's All-Star Five to Head Jazz Festival," The Hoya, May 4, 1961

Jazz fest cancelled news story

Georgetown Jazz Festival Cancelled

Due to lack of funding, Georgetown's Jazz Festival originally lasted only two seasons (1960-1961), but decades later, the festival began anew.

  • "Hoya Jazz Fest Folds as Money Runs Out," The Hoya, January 18, 1962

Promotional photo of Mary Lou Williams

"Jazz" Poster for Mary Lou Williams

Jazz Pianist Mary Lou Williams

Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) was a prolific jazz pianist, arranger, composer, and bandleader.  She composed and arranged hundreds of compositions, writing for musicians including Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.  She was a friend, mentor, and teacher to Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie.

  • Promotional photo of Mary Lou Williams (undated), photo credit: James J. Kriegsmann
  • "Jazz" flyer for Mary Lou Williams's performance

Hoya Article "Georgetown Has Jazz Mass"

Photo of Jazz Mass at GU

Mary Lou Williams and her Jazz Mass

In the 1960s, much of noted jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams's compositions were liturgical.  In 1973, Mary Lou Williams performed her Jazz Mass (written in 1972) at Georgetown. While she originally booked several other musicians to perform with her, she was able to convince Dizzy Gillespie to perform with her at the last minute!  Her Jazz Mass was a first for Georgetown.

  • "G'Town Has Jazz Mass," The Hoya, November 9, 1973
  • Photo of Mary Lou Williams's Jazz Mass in Georgetown's Dahlgren Chapel

Hoya Article for Mary Lou Williams's MLK Concert

Poster for Mary Lou Williams's MLK Concert

Musical Celebration of MLK Jr. featuring Mary Lou Williams at GU

Ten years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Mary Lou Williams played in a concert at GU to commemorate the occasion and celebrate the civil rights leader’s life.  The concert featured an original choral work by Williams entitled “I Have a Dream.”

  • "Jazz: Fit for a King," The Hoya, April 7, 1973
  • Advertisement for “Mary Lou Williams: Musical Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King”

Poster for Senior Ball feat. Glenn Miller, 1940

Ad for 1940 Junior Prom feat. Benny Goodman

Hoya Article for 1962 Junior Prom feat. Maynard Ferguson and Dave Brubeck

Poster for Diplomats Ball feat. Louis Armstrong

Poster for 1969 Junior Prom feat. Count Basie

Jazzy Dance Parties at Georgetown

Georgetown's students, faculty, and alumni were lucky to have some of the great jazz figures perform at their junior proms, senior balls, and diplomatic balls. Some of the performers included Louie Armstrong, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Maynard Ferguson, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Lionel Hampton.

  • “Glenn Miller plays for the Senior Ball,” The Hoya, May 1, 1940
  • “Benny Goodman plays the Junior Prom,” The Hoya, January 17, 1940
  • “Maynard, Brubeck Set to Stimulate Promsters,” The Hoya, December 19, 1963
  • Poster for 1967 Diplomats Ball featuring Louis Armstrong and the Glenn Miller Orchestra
  • Poster for 1969 Junior Prom featuring Count Basie

Headshot of Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington's Musicians Union Card

Jazz Pianist and Bandleader Duke Ellington

Famed jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader Duke Ellington (1899-1974) grew up in Washington, D.C.'s Shaw neighborhood (not far from U Street, D.C.’s original neighborhood for jazz).

  • Publicity Photo of Duke Ellington, Jr. (c. 1963), photo credit: James J. Kriegsmann
  • Duke Ellington’s Musicians' Union Membership Card, 1964

Ad for Gaston Hall performances, including Duke Ellington

Ad for Duke Ellington concert, 1974

Duke Ellington’s Last Concert in DC at Georgetown University, 1974

Duke Ellington's last performance in his hometown of D.C. was at Georgetown's Gaston Hall on February 10, 1974, three months before he died on May 24, 1974.  Ellington was joined by singer Anita Moore, and the program included jazz standards “Caravan,” “Take the A Train,” Sophisticated Lady,” “Do Nothin’ til You Hear from Me,” and “Solitude.”

  • “Gaston Hall Performers Present New Faces including Duke Ellington,” The Hoya, January 18, 1974
  • "SEC Presents Duke Ellington," The Hoya, February 8, 1974

Curated by Jayme Kurland, Robbin Collection Music Cataloger
with assistance from Rachel Coleman (C'19)