Best New Jazz Venue

Jazz and Cultural Society
2813 12th St. NE, (202) 526-1615
Photograph by Charles Steck

JACS doesn’t feel like a jazz club. It has some of the accessories: The outside entrance features a colorful mural of musicians; inside there’s a stage with piano and drums, musical instruments and jazz-inspired art on the powder-blue walls, tables and chairs on the long floor. Even so, those trappings are integrated into what is recognizably the ground floor of a scruffy storefront on a residential Brookland street. The vibe is less that of a club than of a neighborhood community center.

Which is precisely what DeAndrey Howard was going for when he and partner Alice Jamison created the Jazz and Cultural Society, which opened last April. “I grew up playing all the top jazz clubs in D.C.,” says the 62-year-old co-owner and manager, who plays trumpet and drums. “I wanted a place that was different from all the other places—a place for the community to come together, but with the intimacy of a jazz club.”

On Wednesday and Sunday nights, that’s exactly what you’ll find inside the brown brick building. The tables and chairs (all donated) are filled with men, women, and children of all ages, all races, and all walks of life—but older African Americans have a plurality. Audience members smile and share some chitchat with each other between songs, munching on the hot food prepared by volunteers in the rear kitchen. And they hoot, holler, and sometimes even get up and dance to the hard-swinging, straight-ahead jazz being played on the stage (mostly by local musicians, though Howard has heard from national artists like Cassandra Wilson and Wallace Roney). Just to drive the point home, Howard often picks up a microphone as songs end and bellows, “Jazz, jazz, jazz!”

Admission is a flat $5, no matter who’s playing. The musicians are the only ones who get paid—the club is staffed by volunteers—and they play music that requires the chops and polish of a seasoned jazz artist, but that isn’t highly cerebral and challenging: It’s jazz with something to say to the people.

It all adds up to a rare breed: jazz as a grassroots movement. JACS’ place among the rowhouses of Brookland is no accident. It signifies Howard and Jamison’s desire to strip away the music’s often-elitist trappings and give it back to an everyday audience. “That was the dream, man,” Howard says. “To be a premiere jazz spot—but instead of ‘taking it one step further,’ like you always hear people say, taking it a million steps further.”