5 live jazz picks for April in D.C.

Happy Jazz Appreciation Month!

The annual 30-day celebration of jazz and creative music kicked off strongly on April 1, with Elijah Jamal Balbed and the Beltway Horns playing at Takoma Station, the 2023 Jazz Masters Tribute Concert at the Kennedy Center, and a Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra concert paying tribute to jazz-influenced visual art. If that was just Day 1, this “JAM” is clearly not joking around.

Fans wanting to experience an immersion in jazz this month should head to Takoma Station, where the excellent programming continues with a trio of exciting performances. First, on April 15, the early-fusion-indebted, Baltimore-based trumpeter Theljon Allen leads a strong quintet featuring Elijah Easton on saxophone and Hope Udobi on keyboards. Then, the bassist Corcoran Holt returns April 22 for the latest installment of his monthly series, bringing New York-based saxophonist and former Roy Hargrove sideman Antonio Hart as a special guest. Rounding out the month, saxophonist Billy Wolfe presents his nonet on April 29 (fans may remember his excellent octet performance at a 2019 CapitalBop Jazz Loft, opening for Linda May Han Oh’s Aventurine). 

This Saturday, April 8, the vocal powerhouse Bilal appears in a special, free concert downtown at Franklin Park, in a program titled Jazz & Blossoms. The full day of music will also feature vocalist Imani Grace-Cooper and her Big Black Band, as well as DJ John Murph spinning tunes.

For fans of the avant-garde, MacArthur “genius” grantee and Chicago creative-scene eminence Ken Vandermark will bring his group Editions Redux to Rhizome on April 17. Also at Rhizome, William Parker – one of the great icons of New York’s downtown scene, and a collaborator with the likes of Cecil Taylor, Jemeel Moondoc and Matthew Shipp – performs on April 30, in a show presented by Transparent Productions.

For all other live jazz needs, consult the full D.C. jazz calendar


Tuesday April 4, 8 p.m.
Kennedy Center – Eisenhower Theater (tickets)
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Don’t call what trumpeter Nicholas Payton makes “jazz.” The New Orleans-born and -bred musician argues that we should describe his music as simply part of the “Black American Music” tradition. It’s an attitude that reflects his history in the Big Easy, where traditional jazz can easily morph into funk, hip-hop, R&B, bounce or whatever else is playing in the streets. Payton’s music is reflective of those straddled lines, while also pulling from Afro-Caribbean and modern electronic influences. 

Here, he leads a 12-member band in a multimedia tribute to Louis Armstrong’s early years, when Satchmo was playing on riverboats, as the kickoff to the Kennedy Center’s “Riverrun Festival.”


Saturday, April 14, 8 p.m.
Music Center at Strathmore, $28-68 (tickets)
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All three of these musicians are prominent voices in creative music, with roots in South Asia and the SWANA diaspora. Arooj Aftab crafts haunting, ethereal vocal performances indebted to Sufi and Hindustiani traditions. Vijay Iyer’s palette as a pianist and keyboardist is broad, with influences ranging from Roscoe Mitchell’s creative vision to the compositional strategies of Billy Strayhorn. Bassist Shahzad Ismaily’s musical knowledge spans continents and centuries, shown in his ability to flit between the worlds of dance, theater, John Zorn, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed. Together this new (and already widely acclaimed) trio crafts atmospheric, darkly beautiful soundscapes.


Saturday, April 8, 8 p.m.
The Birchmere Music Hall (tickets)
[view on calendar]

The Sun Ra Arkestra has been at the forefront of creative music for almost seven decades now. Existing under various names and configurations while Ra himself led it, the Arkestra has been helmed for the last 20-plus years by 98-year old firebrand saxophonist Marshall Allen.

The group plays cosmic-minded music that can be heavenly sounding in one moment, and as discordant as a meteor storm in the next. It’s always full of uplifting, even divine intentions.


Wednesday, April 26, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Blues Alley (tickets)
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Under the 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, which closed in 2016, the 17-piece ensemble still assembles to perform thrilling arrangements from the classic songbooks of Ellington, Basie and others. They also frequently perform contemporary works by composers like Maria Schneider and Miho Hazama, as well as originals by band members and other members of the D.C. jazz community.

Here, the BCJO will feature Charles McPherson, one of the great alto saxophonists of the last six decades. He broke out as a member of Charles Mingus’ bands in the 1960s 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 jazz heavyweight has everything to do with his own original talent, and nothing to do with derivation.


Sunday, April 30, 8 p.m.
Kennedy Center – Concert Hall (tickets)
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South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, once known as Dollar Brand, is a key architect of modern jazz in his home country. As a member of the Jazz Epistles in the 1950s, he was one of the first musicians to bring  the bebop created by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to South Africa. From there, Ibrahim built an eminent career ranging across the broader Black musical tradition. He has led everything from big bands to intimate duets, and has collaborated with lions of the cutting edge like Archie Shepp, Hamiet Bluiett, Cecil McBee and Max Roach, as well as younger members of the contemporary South African scene. His touch at the piano is warm, spiritual, strong and inviting all at once. Here, Ibrahim performs with his longstanding group Ekaya (the Zulu word for Home, or Homeland).



About Jackson Sinnenberg

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Jackson Sinnenberg is a broadcast journalist and a freelance writer. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, JazzTimes, Downbeat, NPR Music, NPR.org, the Washington City Paper, On Tap/District Fray Magazine and the blog of Smithsonian Folkways Records. He began covering the city’s music scene for WGTB, Georgetown University’s radio station, where he was a show host, writer, and columnist. He graduated from Georgetown with a bachelor’s degree in American Musical Culture. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him at @sinnenbergmusic.

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