Jazz in the Garden: Best D.C. Summer Activity


Whether you’re new to D.C. or have been here awhile, I heartily suggest checking out Jazz in the Garden in the Smithsonian’s Sculpture Garden this summer. The event takes place every Friday from 5:00-8:00 p.m. Entrance is free, and you can purchase alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, and food inside. The Sculpture Garden is right on the National Mall and accessible by several different metro stops.

While you might scoff at the idea of jazz in the garden as something old people do on a night away for the kids, I promise, you are misinformed. It took me several visits to even realize there was live jazz there, though to the trained and sober observer, I’m sure the musicians were both conspicuous and enjoyable. More than your grandma’s tea parties, Jazz in the Garden resembles the bacchanalian excess of the Jazz Age itself.  Think of it as a chance to live out all of your greatest Great Gatsby fantasies, if Great Gatsby took place in an outdoor frat and people were discouraged from reckless driving by the wealth of public transportation options made available to them.  And with the recent release of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation, what after-work activity could be more in vogue?

There’s also something very satisfying about convincing yourself that your drinking and carousing have somehow come to serve the higher purpose of self-improvement.  For example, I always choose citrus mixers in cocktails, since I believe it helps me ward off the very dangerous and prevalent disease, scurvy. I like to think of Jazz in the Garden as preventing scurvy of the soul, in the form of cultural enrichment.  (Full disclosure: I don’t know the exact symptoms of scurvy, so I’m not entirely sure this is an apt metaphor. It seemed poetic though, so let’s go with it.)  Yes, you did just polish off a pitcher of sangria, which should count as a cultural encounter in and of itself, but you did so while enjoying the instrumental stylings of a band that is totally right over there, and not just a CD being played over the ice-rink’s loudspeakers.  Not to mention, you did all this while surrounded by priceless, largely inscrutable works of art. Honestly, this is probably more culture than you’ve taken in, in years. You should feel very productive.

For your cultural outing, I recommend you bring a picnic blanket and a generous, deep-pocketed friend, because those pitchers of sangria won’t buy themselves.  Since it can get crowded, sending a friend early to save space is another safe-bet.  Choose the one with lots of free time; participation in on-line forums or blogs is a good measure of this. I’d also try to go early in the season, before D.C. summer swamp weather sets in and the movement of glass to lips becomes too arduous a task to contemplate.  

Jazz in the Garden runs 5:00 - 8:30 p.m. every Friday, from now until August 30. A list of artists can be found on the National Gallery website. See you there (I’ll be the girl with the sangria and not even the slightest trace of scurvy)!