Jazz greats return to Washington

Published 1:14 am Saturday, January 14, 2012

Larry Turner (left), founder and president of East Coast Jazz Revue, passes an evening with jazz drummer Roger Humphries on Thursday at Turner’s home in Washington. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

The indefinite closure of the historic Turnage Theater kept jazz drummer Roger Humphries and his fellow musicians from performing locally in celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
But the shuttering of the financially troubled theater didn’t prevent Humphries and his bandmates from returning to Washington on Thursday evening for a dinner party at the home of Larry Turner, founder and president of East Coast Jazz Revue, or ECJR.
This was Humphries’ third visit to the city. His prior sojourns coincided with Turnage-based jazz concerts, one of which was staged by ECJR a year ago in honor of America’s music and the togetherness King encouraged.
“My thoughts are that I’m just sad it’s closed,” Humphries said of the Turnage. “It was a nice theater.”
Humphries is a retired music educator, but he remains a touring musician after at least 50 years in the field. He has played and recorded with such luminaries as pianist-composer Horace Silver, singer-pianist-bandleader Ray Charles and vocalist Nancy Wilson.
The drummer and his band were scheduled to play in Goldsboro on Friday under the auspices of ECJR.
Though ECJR has lost its main local venue — the Turnage — it continues to make Washington its headquarters, Turner confirmed.
“We still have the waterfront and that’s a great venue for an outdoor event,” said Turner, adding he hopes to bring Humphries, trumpeter Sean Jones and others to the city’s Festival Park this summer.
“As it relates to the Turnage itself, I’m very optimistic that we’re going to find a way in this community to keep the Turnage alive,” he commented.
Friday’s dinner party marked Jones’ second stop in Washington, the first being last year’s MLK occasion.
“I think it’s very important that every community have a few performance venues for a few reasons,” said Jones. “I think it’s important to keep live entertainment at the forefront of American society. We’re human beings, we like to interact. We like to feel together, we like to imagine together, we like to feel the majesty of humanity together. The best way to approach this is through the arts and, if you don’t have venues to bring people together, it’s not possible to make it happen.”
Jones praised the Turnage as a public space, saying, “It’s a wonderful theater. We had a great time there. The acoustics are awesome.”
As yet, the Turnage Theaters Foundation has no definite plans for reviving the theater, but TTF board members have said they believe the facility will reopen at some point. Turner and many others have been involved in discussions that may hold the key to the future of the restored, early 20th-century building.