How John Jazz Is Changing Flash Nightclub’s Live Music Experience
Something’s taking shape downstairs at Flash, a nightclub located in Shaw. I’m not sure what it is yet, but my attention is rapt. I ended up there on the second Wednesday of the month because John Jazz assured me that I’d be interested in what he was doing—and when it comes to music, I take his suggestions pretty seriously.
He told me to bring my guitar too, which I thought was interesting. Typically Flash hosts DJ nights, not live bands.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived (in a torrential downpour, no less). The night played out like a long, unrehearsed jam session among familiar friends, and the tunes that escaped from the P.A. speakers were consistently pleasant and completely unplanned. They were each born spontaneously in the moment, lived briefly to dance around the room for a few measures, and died just as spontaneously to make way for the next riff. It was more than an open mic session. It was alive, breathing performance art, and everyone in attendance was involved whether they knew it or not.
The whole thing has been a dream of Jazz’s, who grew up largely in Northern Virginia and has always been heavily influenced by the Roots—a band that sprung rather organically from Philadelphia’s jazz clubs and street corners. Channeling them as inspiration, he worked with Molly Ruland, the CEO of One Love Massive, to spark a similar movement in D.C.
“The name of the event is Feel the Love, Live” explains Jazz. “And that’s what we want: people to feel it, sing together, share music, be accepting of anyone who steps on stage and encourage them to shine.”
The sentiment should come as no surprise if you happen to know Jazz personally. He started DJing and collecting vinyl while attending NYU and working at Fat Beats. But soon after that he shipped off to Guatemala for two-and-a-half years to work with the Peace Corps—a move that further shaped his musical style as well as his character.
“My main project was building woodburning stoves and water systems,” he says. “The food that we ate was the food that we grew. But I would also go into Guatemala City, where I had a connection with a dude who worked at a skate shop. He would throw events with skateboarders, graffiti artists, punk rockers and so on. I DJed for him at least five or six times in a few different cities, and I also played in my local church’s Cumbia band.”
Once he returned to D.C., Jazz joined up with the celebrated Dominican merengue band known as DC Mambo, playing saxophone with them at clubs like Bravo! Bravo! and Fur.
“It almost felt like a second Peace Corps experience,” according to Jazz. “I was familiar with Dominican culture, but playing in this band and speaking Spanish really taught me a lot about the Latino music scene in D.C. It was the first time that I was in a serious band, practicing twice a week, getting paid and working with the radio. It was also the first time I became a street musician.”
Now, fast-forward two years: Jazz and Ruland are discussing the possibility of an open, collaborative night of live music in D.C. Ruland asks, “We’ve got a venue in two weeks. Can you get a band together?”
“I knew some guys from a hip hop crew I used to play with down in Woodbridge, Virginia called Planet Ill so I called everyone up,” Jazz says. “There was no resistance. I’m very fortunate to be around these very motivated, hard-working musicians.”
The crew he pulled together for the event included drummer and super-producer Acee; a versatile guitar player from Austin, Texas, named Kumera; as well as bass player extraordinaire, Glynn and keyboardist, Mario, from the hip hop collective known as Nova Infinite. The group also features two sax players, Regan and Besu.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to their first off-the-cuff performance. But my man Fleetwood DeVille, who has now participated in Feel the Love twice, had this to say about it all:
“Molly and John are about as ideal a duo to start an event like Feel the Love Live! as a music-lover could hope for,” says DeVille. “To first even have the creativity and wherewithal to orchestrate and then quarterback such a unique event—for the full night—and then interact with practically everyone who walked through the door; it’s been incredible to watch him work.”
DeVille also notes that Jazz’ level of dedication goes above and beyond just organizing the events.
“There was one time when John jogged through the full downpour to grab a pizza and brought it back to serve all those who came. Then he organized the musicians and open mic-ers, played three sets [with the band] on his saxophone, and spat a four-minute freestyle verse during one of them. If that doesn’t show sincere love—not only for music but on a greater level, for fellowship—I don’t know what does.”
I couldn’t agree more, based solely on what I saw during the second incarnation of Feel the Love this month. As Jazz and the band played improvised music to get the crowd moving, people stalked over to the sign-up sheet. By the end of the night, I had seen some pretty ridiculous talent join the band for improvised numbers, including Edy Blu, MC Logic, Xander Johnson, Joe Brotherton, and the always-funky, aforementioned DeVille (along with others, whose names I am unfortunately forgetting at the moment).
The bottom line is that I’m really psyched to see how this collaboration works out. Anything can happen when Jazz’s band starts playing without a specific plan in mind. (They’re currently searching for an appropriate name, by the way. Suggestions welcome.) Hopefully Feel the Love will also serve as a sign of things to come: “This might be the beginning of a new chapter at Flash as far as having live music on the first floor,” Jazz speculates.
I hope he’s right. If the club with the sickest sound system in the city (and beyond) starts booking bands to play on their currently-bare first floor, things could get really interesting.
For now, it looks like the second Wednesday of the month is when you’ll be able to catch some live tunes downstairs at Flash. The next Feel the Love event is scheduled for July 9.