December is prime-time for holiday jazz concerts. Not everything will be recitations of Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby or the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (although those are some of the best recorded examples of Christmas music ever and I am not wrong), nor maudlin calls to “Sleigh Ride” sing-alongs. The Yuletide concerts I am recommending this month will feature music that the musicians both had enormous fun putting together and put a great deal of effort into, in order to make it theirs. Both parts are key ingredients for great jazz. Happy Holidays and see you in the new year.
Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra
Every Monday night for six years, some of the best jazz musicians in D.C. gathered in the subterranean haunt of the iconic Bohemian Caverns jazz club to workshop original music, classics and new pieces of the big band canon. The club is closed by its house orchestra soldiers itinerantly on, performing its annual Christmas concert for the first time since 2019. Frankly, if there’s space for only one Christmas concert in your budget, this is the one to catch. $15+. 8 p.m. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; atlas.org // @atlaspacdc
Eric Felten Jazz Orchestra: “Ellington’s Nutcracker”
The Nutcracker — that classic holiday ballet written by Tchaikovsky — is a long-time favorite tradition for Washingtonians, one merely needs to see the number of performances at the Warner Theater. But D.C.’s favorite musical son, Duke Ellington, created a swinging, sultry suite arrangement of the ballet with Billy Strayhorn in 1960. It was an instant hit and has been a cornerstone of jazzy Christmas celebrations ever since. Eric Felten, a trombonist and bandleader who is an evangelist for the classics, performs a straight re-creation of the Ellington-Strayhorn Nutcracker, a great entry point to one of the great works of jazz. $40+. 7 and 9 p.m. Blues Alley: 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW., DC; bluesalley.com // @bluesalleydc
Mark G. Meadows and the Movement: A Cool Yule
Pianist and vocalist Mark G. Meadows is as enamored with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye as he is with the great jazz pianists like McCoy Tyner and Robert Glasper. His music is a constant mix of warm, melodic straight-jazz, some breezy pop, anthemic soul and even some fierce hip-hop when he’s with his band The Movement. Their holiday program, “A Cool Yule,” is sure to include some crowd favorites and undoubtedly some great surprises. It’s a show for all ages and listeners. $33+. 7:00 p.m. BlackRock Center for the Arts: 12901 Town Commons Dr, Germantown, MD; blackrockcenter.org // @blackrockcenter
Elijah Jamal Balbed Quartet Holiday Concert
Saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed is about as D.C. as a jazz musician can get. Raised through D.C. music programs as a jazz saxophonist while also exploring the R&B, funk and go-go in the city, Balbed ended up playing with Chuck Brown during the last couple of years of the Godfather of Go-go’s life. Balbed respects the classics and the jazz tradition, he can swing, he can blow hard on his sax, and write tunes that range from jazz club favorites to suites of grand, anthemic design. Here, he and his exemplary quartet will perform a program of holiday classics in the picturesque Kreeger Museum. It will be a feast of good holiday spirit. $30. 3:30 p.m. The Kreeger Museum: 2401 Foxhall Rd NW., DC; kreegermuseum.org // @kreegermuseum
George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic
No lip about how this isn’t “technically” jazz: bassist, vocalist and pioneer George Clinton is deeply suffused with the jazz spirit of creativity, reinvention and spontaneity. It is what makes concerts with his signature outfit Parliament-Funkadelic still one of the most energizing, grooving, out-of-this-world experiences in live music for over 50 years. This is some heavy, mind-bending and body-shaking (even booty shaking) stuff. What better way to close out the year than with a total mind-body-soul epiphany on the funky dance floor? $100. 9 p.m. 9:30 Club: 815 V St NW., DC; 930.com // @930club
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