Federal Focus, Inc.

Children's Issue

Federal Focus Jazz Band

In 1989, Federal Focus expanded its charter to include activities for the preservation of American traditional jazz (also known as "New Orleans" jazz), and the foundation's tax-exempt status was extended to this activity by the IRS. The impetus was the apparent risk that this type of music was in danger of gradually dying out, despite its recognition by Congress as a national treasure. This appeared to be due in large part to the fact that this type of music incorporated a great deal of improvisation and depended heavily on oral traditions and "home-made" recordings, and many accomplished performers and composers were aging and passing away.

The main vehicle for the revival and preservation of this musical tradition has been the Federal Focus Jazz Band. The Band is comprised of between eight and twelve talented music students from the Washington, DC area. The Band members, who change frequently as they graduate from local schools, are tutored extensively in American traditional jazz by adult jazz experts, and the Band has performed over 200 "gigs" at events such as the annual Cherry Blossom Parade, the White House Easter egg rolls, government events and receptions, state, local and private galas, and jazz festivals throughout the U.S.

The Band has recorded an LP, "Milenberg Joys! Federal Focus Jazz Band" and three CDs, "Federal Focus Jazz Band, Renewing the Tradition", Volumes 1, 2, and 3, all produced by Federal Focus. All of these recordings, and further information regarding the specific contents of the recordings or performances of the Band, may be obtained from Federal Focus.

Federal Focus has also provided grants to music departments at schools such as the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in the District of Columbia, and is a supporter of the Washington Folk Festival.

French Quarter Festival in Focus
Walt Brenner, Secretary, Tri-State Jazz Society:

The 2000 FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVAL was a blast!! I have had the pleasure of hearing the Federal Focus Jazz Band (FFJB) on many occasions - for the Tri-State Jazz Society last May and at the annual PRJC picnics - but they never sounded better than that memorable long weekend in N’awlin’s.

The planned Friday morning kick-off parade was almost washed out by a downpour but just at starting time the rain stopped and the FFJB did their struttinest best with an enthusiastic second line of PRJC well wishers and lots of pumping umbrellas. As the Mayor said in his welcoming speech on Jackson Square after the parade, the rain merely helped clean the streets (which, as anyone familiar with the Crescent City knows, is ALWAYS necessary). The FFJB was one of the featured groups on the Square’s big bandstand and they wowed the audience. For the next three days there were 4 stages set up daily on Bourbon Street between 11 am and 5 pm. This was as close to wall-to-wall trad jazz as it gets. In addition, there was a brass band venue by the riverside. We were entertained by musicians from Holland, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, the UK and the USA. Where else could one hear such masters as Jack Maheu, Jacque Gauthe, Doug Finke, John Brunious, Plato Smith, John Gill, and Tom Saunders playing within a few blocks of each other? There were the usual steady gigs with lots of sit-ins at the Can Can Café in the Sonesta Hotel, Fritzel’s Bar, the Palm Court, Preservation Hall, Bourbon Street Café, the Storyville Restaurant, the Seaport Restaurant, the Matador’s Sunday night jam session and Donna’s Bar & Grill Monday night jam. The FFJB guys seemed to be everywhere. They had their own gig on one of the Bourbon St. stages for two hours and two appearances at Preservation Hall and Fritzel’s. Then a bunch of them showed up for the Matador jam on Sunday night and blew the place away!! These guys are truly great!!

I was fortunate to be around for the opening of Jack Mahue’s new jazz venue, the Tin Roof Café. Sho’ ‘nuff, the FFJB was THERE, too. The crowd of 300 took them to their hearts and did not want them to leave the bandstand for the next group. I said, "guys", but we were privileged to hear the FFJB alumna, Kirsten Thien, belt out many old favorites in a true jazz style that many others try, but fail, to achieve. She was present for most of the FFJB performances. Carol Leigh was on hand to demonstrate her virtuosity as well.

Dave Robinson, who was one of the principal organizers of this trip, should feel extremely proud of the way his band took over the Festival and made it their own. They were truly the talk of the town. We also owe the success of the entire weekend to Rachel Lahrim for all the hard work and detailed planning she engaged in for the better part of a year. I think my most lasting impression of this year’s French Quarter Festival is the large number of young people, in addition to the FFJB, who were performing. Whether on piano, clarinet, drums, violin (yes, VIOLIN!!) or cornet, they were making music that will live long after most of us. Nay-sayers to the contrary, trad jazz is certainly not dying and indeed has a very bright future.

Tailgate Ramblins, June 2000



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