LifestyleDavey Yarborough honored at Duke Ellington's 125th birthday concert

Davey Yarborough honored at Duke Ellington’s 125th birthday concert

As a celebrated musician and arts educator, still making strides in teaching jazz to young musicians, Davey Yarborough, will be honored during “Ellington at 125: The DC Collective in Concert,” a concert on April 28 at Arena Stage. 

Yarborough taught jazz education for 40 years at the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts (DESA). 

Though retired from DESA, Yarborough and his wife Esther Williams are co-founders of the Washington Jazz Arts Institute (WJAI), a nonprofit that offers free jazz performance training for young students from elementary school through early college. In its 26th year, WJAI, has an astounding track record of fostering young musicians and preparing them to enter college, many with scholarships. 

Former DESA and WJAI students have moved to performing in their own bands.

The upcoming concert at Arena Stage is presented by the DC Jazz Festival, under the Ellington 125 theme, commemorating what would be jazz great Duke Ellington’s 125th birthday on April 29. The show is curated by D.C. native Corcoran Holt, bassist and DESA alumnus. 

Holt, a composer, band leader and professor at Arizona State University, assembled a group of Ellington School alumni to create the DC Collective. 

Holt met Yarborough at age 12 and studied under him in high school at Ellington. He credits his teacher and mentor with shaping his path from the beginning of his music training.

“He saw something in me that he nurtured. He pushed me to achieve some level of professionalism early in life,” Holt said in an interview. “I want to honor him and make sure he knows what he means to me.”

To show his gratitude, Holt has organized the upcoming DC Collective concert as his first project with his two-year artist-in-residence appointment announced by the DC Jazz Festival a few months ago. Making up the group are fellow Ellington alumni percussionist Jabari Exum, pianist Janelle Gill, drummer Kweku Sumbry, tenor saxophonist Brian Settles, and trumpeter Al Strong.

“They were all down to do a dedicated concert to honor him,” said Holt about Yarborough. 

“Ellington 125: The DC Collective in Concert,” is one of the many projects that has kept Holt,  a family man with a wife and two kids, busy. In addition to being an assistant professor of jazz at Arizona State University, he performs around the country in a band headed by National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master Kenny Garrett and other jazz talents.

“I’m able to chop my touring schedule, but my students have been very supportive of what I am able to do,” said Holt.

He said his work as an artist-in-residence with DC Jazz Festival is another way of sharing his love for jazz and celebrating District arts and culture.

“I’m centering my residency around generations of D.C. and paying respect to those that have paved this way for me and my generation,” he said.

To secure tickets for “Ellington at 125: The DC Collective in Concert,” go to the DC Jazz Festival website at

Source: Washington Informer

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