Spotlight Cache: The Lorton Jazz Festival

#InternationalJazzDay (April 30, 2023)

Nation’s Most Unusual Jazz Fesival

Did you know that for over a decade, some of the greatest names in jazz performed for free right here in Northern Virginia? Even more amazing is that these performances were inside the gates of a federal prison.

The names of jazz legends who performed at this festival include Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Charlie Byrd, Oscar Peterson Trio, Count Basie Band, Nancy Wilson, Duke Ellington, Bobby Timmons, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and many more.

An unusual aspect of the festival was that little was pre-arranged or pre-staged. Although Father Breitfeller, the Catholic chaplain of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, was the chief organizer of the event, he was more like a talent scout. Father Breitfeller was highly esteemed among the inmates for his years of selfless service.

The festival is not a coddling or pampering of prisoners but an annual reminder that prisoners are understood and thought of as human beings. These are the things that money cannot buy so it is only fitting that they not be obtained with money… rather, through the large and generous heart of jazz…

Father Carl J. Breitfeller

The Lorton Jazz Festival (Puzzle Cache)

In celebration of International Jazz Day (April 30, 2023), NoVAGO is spotlighting The Lorton Jazz Festival (GC9GKEV) by rlobecker. Cachers who do this puzzle will get the opportunity to sit in the same shaded brick bleachers on the prison ball field and imagine the atmosphere of 2,500 members of the audience, prisoners neatly clad in blue slacks and blue or white shirts.

The spectators are excited but orderly, and then the First Lady of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, arrives with about twenty other musicians, and the crowd goes wild. This was the scene in September 1964. WMAL radio DJ, Felix Grant, is the master of ceremonies and kicks the annual festival off. The show starts with the Earl Swope Septet, a brass band. Then the Bobby Timmons Trio takes the stage. There is some musical tennis between the young pianist and his bass man. Then a break in the music. A spokesman for the inmates calls the organizer to the bandstand to deliver a special appreciation and ovation. Next, Charlie Byrd Trio takes the stage. Then, Oscar Peterson plays a lick on piano so great that even the watchtower guards are leaning out to hear. After another roaring ovation, Oscar Peterson leaves the stage; the MC approaches the mic to announce the final performer. Everyone already knows who it will be and erupts in thunderous applause as Ella Fitzgerald walks on the stage. Despite the 90°F heat and humidity of a September day in Lorton, Miss Fitzgerald belts out song after song in what the Washington Catholic Standard would describe as “so high that the grass on the infield rippled.”

After sitting for a minute to imagine what it might have been like, explore the rest of the reformatory. Imagine what it would have been like to return to your quarters after such a show; already looking forward to next year’s festival.

The Lorton Jazz Festival by rlobecker was nominated for Best Historical and Best Mystery Cache for the NoVAGO 2021 Cache Awards. Contratulations!

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