The Calvin Jones BIG BAND Jazz Festival has presented world-class jazz in the nation’s capital since 1987. Produced by the University of the District of Columbia Jazz Studies Program and the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives, the festival has been overwhelmingly supported by area audiences and remains one of the most anticipated events on Washington, D.C.’s jazz calendar.
The University BIG BAND Jazz Festival began as part of a citywide tribute to Duke Ellington in 1987 and was originally co-hosted by WDCU-FM JAZZ 90, which was recognized city-wide as one of the finest showcases of jazz in the area. The festival featured performances by the local powerhouse jazz ensembles from the University of the District of Columbia directed by Calvin Jones, Howard University directed by Fred Irby III and the University of Maryland directed by Dr. George Ross.
In subsequent years the festival was presented as A Tribute to Count Basie (1988); A Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Consortium of Universities of Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area (1991); and A Tribute to Dizzy Gillespie and Dr. George Ross, (1993). In 1994 Chris Vadala made his debut as director of the University of Maryland Jazz Ensemble at the festival’s A Tribute to Felix Grant. UDC TV recorded the 10th anniversary in 1996 for the first video broadcast of the festival. BET on Jazz taped the 1998 festival and aired the program on BET on Jazz’s-Jazz Scene and Washington D.C.’s Jazz Messenger-WPFW 89.3 FM has broadcast the festival live. In 1999 the festival joined the city in celebrating the 100th anniversary of Duke Ellington’s birth. Since 2002 the festival has celebrated Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) - an initiative launched by the Smithsonian Institution that serves as an annual affirmation of jazz.
On October 21, 2004 the festival was renamed the Calvin Jones BIG BAND Jazz Festival by a University of the District of Columbia Board of Trustees Resolution in memory of Calvin Jones, director of the University’s Jazz Studies program and a legendary figure in the Washington, D.C. community.
A Tribute to Calvin Jones in 2005 was a very special evening when Allyn Johnson made his festival debut as director of the UDC Jazz Ensemble and Calvin Jones, Jr. presented his father's trombone to the Jazz Studies Program. (The trombone is on permanent display at the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives.)
In 2006 the traditionally featured jazz ensembles from the University of the District of Columbia directed by Allyn Johnson, Howard University, directed by Fred Irby III and the University of Maryland directed by Chris Vadala celebrated a special 20th anniversary. For the 23rd year, the festival joined the city in celebrating the District of Columbia’s Duke Ellington Quarter that was released into circulation January 2009.
Since 2005 UDC-TV in cooperation with the District of Columbia Office of Cable Television has recorded the festival for broadcast throughout the year on UDC-TV (channel 98 on Comcast, channel 19 on RCN, and channel 21 on Verizon FiOS) reaching over 180,000 households locally.
On April 25, 2011 the Calvin Jones BIG BAND Jazz Festival celebrated a milestone 25th anniversary with a Proclamation by the Honorable Vincent C. Gray, Mayor of the District of Columbia. The longtime distinguished advocate for jazz, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. served as Honorary Chair for this year's festival.
Cedric Hendricks at the 2011 Calvin Jones BIG BAND Jazz Festival