Jazz vocalist Tracy Hamlin travels the globe bringing her captivating voice to fans worldwide. But Hamlin now calls Loudoun home, and this year she’s launching a jazz festival right in her own backyard.
Hamlin’s inaugural Sweet Jazz Festival, set for Oct. 6 at Tarara Winery, promises to be a dream come true for jazz lovers, featuring internationally renowned musicians along with local up and comers.
A longtime performer whose releases have topped the European charts, Hamlin has assembled a star-studded lineup for Sweet Jazz, including saxophonist Gerald Albright, pianist Alex Bugnon and trumpet player Cindy Bradley. But she has also decided to use the festival as an opportunity to showcase young jazz talent from the DMV, including the Loudoun-based instrumental trio Agmité and singer-songwriter Jessica Howard, also from Loudoun.
“One of the things my husband and I love to do on weekends is get out to wineries. Because of my love for both [wine and jazz], I thought this would be amazing to do a jazz event with some great artists and combine it with the wine factor since this is beautiful wine country,” Hamlin said.
A Baltimore native, Hamlin, 52, started singing in venues at age 11 and has been writing and performing ever since, adding classical training at the Peabody School of Music to her résumé. In addition to her solo career, Hamlin has performed with some of the greats like Gloria Gaynor and Chaka Khan. Hamlin and her husband Nate Landry moved to the D.C. area for Landry’s job and chose Loudoun because of its proximity to Dulles Airport—and for its bucolic setting and local wine scene.
Hamlin has earned a reputation as a festival organizer, putting on an annual private jazz fest on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia for the past nine years. This year, she decided it was time for a festival close to home. With its award-winning summer concert series and a designated performance area, Tarara was a natural fit.
“It’s a well-oiled machine, so I could focus on the other important factors. And they have great wine and it’s a beautiful area, so it was a win-win,” Hamlin said. “For my first festival [in Virginia], it was important to me to get artists that could connect with their audiences, artists that have a great following.”
But Hamlin also wanted to offer a leg up to talented local acts and give them a shot at performing with international artists.
“Music changed my life, so any opportunity that I can use to reach back and give somebody an opportunity that I could have gained from back in the day, I absolutely take advantage of it,” she said.
Hamlin asked performers to submit videos and had fans choose from four handpicked finalists in a competition for a spot at Sweet Jazz, and the winner was jazz fusion trio Agmité.
Agmité’s drummer and bandleader Aggie Lee Brown III, 20, of Severn, MD, travels to Loudoun to practice with bassist Michael Preston, 19, of Lovettsville and keyboardist Ted Gallegos, 21, of Middleburg. Brown met Preston, a Woodgrove High School grad, and Gallegos, a Loudoun Valley High School alum, when the three collaborated as part of the Maryland-based pop band Del Florida. But their love for experimental jazz drew them together, and they formed their trio earlier this year.
Brown’s roots in gospel and Preston and Gallegos’ interest in electronica make for unusual sound that’s getting the band gigs at clubs around the DMV.
“We all fell in love with jazz because it’s the home base of every other genre,” Brown said. “Us falling in love with jazz and putting our own taste to it with their electronics feel and my gospel feel, it was a perfect mix. But it always has to start with jazz.”
Being selected by Hamlin and her fans is a big break for the young group, and the guys are going for it with confidence in their unique brand of jazz fusion.
“We definitely know our sound and we know what we’re portraying to other,” Brown said. “We expect to gain more fans each and every day that we share our music.”
For Hamlin, it’s a chance to introduce herself to her community, bring some top-notch musicians and give some newcomers a big break.
“A lot of people say that jazz is a lost art,” she said. “But I don’t believe that.”
Tracy Hamlin’s Sweet Jazz Festival is Saturday, Oct. 6 from 1 to 8 p.m. at Tarara Winery, 13648 Tarara Lane, Lucketts. Gates open at noon. General admission tickets are $75. For tickets and information, go to sweetjazzfest.com.
For more information on Loudoun-based Agmité, go to facebook.com/agmitemusic.