D.C. offers a plethora of options to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month with live performances.
Happy Jazz Appreciation Month!
The annual 30-day celebration of jazz and creative music kicked off on April 1, with Elijah Balbed and the Beltway Horns at Takoma Station, the 2023 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterwork’s Orchestra musical appreciation of jazz-influenced visual art. If that was just the first day, this Jazz Appreciation Month is clearly not joking around.
Balbed performed at Takoma Station, which continues to offer excellent programming throughout the month. The early-fusion indebted, Charm City trumpeter Theljon Allen leads a strong quintet featuring Elijah Easton on saxophone and Hope Udobi on keyboards at the tavern on April 15; Corcoran Holt continues his monthly feature on April 22, bringing favorite-Roy Hargrove sideman Antonio Hart down from New York to share the stage; and saxophonist Billy Wolfe presents his nonet on April 29 (he played with his octet at a CapitalBop Jazz Loft opening for Linda May Han Oh’s Aventurine).
A major highlight of the jazz-influenced and expanded musical universe coming to D.C. this month is Love in Exile, the project of a trio of highly creative South Asian musicians: vocalist Arooj Aftab, pianist Vijay Iyer and bassist Shahzad Ismaily. The group’s haunting, majestic and ambient work will be on feature at Strathmore’s Music Center on April 14.
For fans of the avant-garde, MacArthur Genius and leader on the Chicago creative scene Ken Vandermark brings his latest group, Editions Redux, at Rhizome on April 17. Also, the great lion of the downtown New York jazz scene of the 70s and 80s, William Parker, performs at Rhizome on April 30, produced by Transparent Productions.
Jazz + Blossoms at Franklin Park
Neo-soul and jazz vocalist Bilal headlines Jazz and Blossoms, a day of music and spring celebration at Franklin Park in Northwest, D.C. Bilal has been part of the fabric of modern hip-hop, R&B and its fusions since his groundbreaking work alongside The Roots, the Soulquarians and D’Angelo at the turn of the millennium. As comfortable in the spacey-soul and R&B exploratory musical missions prompted by Prince as he is matching Robert Glasper feel-for-feel and groove-for-groove, this Philadelphia native and powerhouse vocalist expands the territory of soul singers. The day also features performances from artists like sleek and resplendent vocalist Imani Grace-Cooper and her Big Black Band as well as local DJs like John Murph. Free. 2 p.m. 1332 I St. NW, DC; downtowndc.org/franklinpark // @franklinparkdc
Sun Ra Arkestra at Birchmere
The Sun Ra Arkestra has been at the forefront of creative music for almost seven decades now. While existing under various names and configurations while Ra himself led it, it’s been led for the last 20 years or so by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, and has seen in an upswing in popularity in recent days. The group plays cosmic-minded music that can range from the heavenly-sounding to the discordance of a meteor storm, but always full of the most uplifting, divine intentions. $35. 8 p.m. 3701 Mount Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; // @thebirchmere
Pianist Orrin Evans has been something of a standard-bearer for modern jazz pianistics and bandleading for the last 15 years. He was a member of the highly influential trio The Bad Plus and has led a variety of small and big bands under his own name; during performances from which you could be as likely to hear some abstracted-out, simmering solos over complex chords or reworkings of deep-cuts like David Bowie’s “Kooks.” Here he joins a group of outstanding D.C. jazz musicians (pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Michael Bowie and drummer Quincy Phillips) to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month. Free. 7:30 p.m. 4200 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC
Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra feat. Charles McPherson at Blues Alley
Under co-direction of saxophonist Brad Linde and trumpeter Joe Herrera, the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra may be the preeminent big-band in Washington, D.C. Even without its namesake venue, the 17-piece ensemble still assembles to perform thrilling arrangements of classics from the Ellington, Basie and standards songbooks; but also works by Maria Schneider and Miho Hazama as well as originals by band members and members of the D.C. jazz community.
Charles McPherson is one of the great alto saxophonists of the last six decades. He broke out as a member of Charles Mingus’ bands in the ’60s and ’70s before going on to perform with an incredible cast of jazz titans like Charles Tolliver and Kenny Drew. McPherson’s style has always been closely associated with that of Charlie Parker, but his status as a hard-bop heavyweight has everything to do with his own original talent, and nothing to do with derivation. $25. 7 p.m. + 9 p.m. 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; bluesalley.com // @bluesalleydc
Abdullah Ibrahim + Ekaya at Kennedy Center
South Africa pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, once known as Dollar Brand, is one of the key architects of modern jazz in his homeland. As a member of The Jazz Epistles, he was one of the first musicians to preach the gospel of the bebop created by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. His six-decades long career has seen him play across the Black American Music tradition, from lions of the cutting edge like Archie Shepp, Hamiet Bluett, Cecil McBee and Max Roach to younger cats in South Africa. His touch is warm, spiritual, strong and inviting all at once. He performs with his group Ekaya (the Zulu word for Home or Homeland). $45. 8 p.m. 2700 F St. NW, DC; kennedy-center.org // @kennedycenter