5 D.C. jazz picks for April 2024

Happy Jazz Appreciation Month! A key moment on the nation’s capital’s jazz calendar, JAM gives D.C. the chance to connect with its rich history of jazz and creative music, which have survived and eked out a strange, vital existence in the shadows of the halls of power for more than 100 years. This April, if you know where to look, you’ll find a moveable feast of music from across the “jazz” idiom served up throughout the city.

You could kick off JAM by seeing D.C. saxophonist Antonio Parker’s tribute to hometown legend Andrew White at Blues Alley on April 3, part of a trio of shows co-presented by Local 161-710, the D.C. Federation of Musicians. Or you could spend that night at Strathmore, in Montgomery County, seeing the guitar icon Pat Metheny work his wonders. On April 14, the performing arts center will host Terri Lynn Carrington’s “New Standards” project.

The Smithsonian, the official originator of JAM, will formally begin its monthlong celebration on Friday, April 5, with the Jazz Masterworks Orchestra performing a program of Duke Ellington compositions in honor of his 125th birthday, which arrives this month. The Kennedy Center has a bevy of offerings on the same front, culminating in Cyrus Chestnut’s take on Ellington’s famous “Sacred Concerts” on April 29. Paul Carr also leads a tribute to Wayne Shorter at Westminster’s jazz night with an all-star D.C. group on April 26.

At Rhizome, Transparent Productions welcomes back Chicago-schooled, New York-based saxophonist Caroline Davis, in duet with guitarist and vocalist Wendy Eisenberg (a familiar face at the DIY venue) on April 10. They’re joined on the bill by a dynamic trio of D.C. improvisers, guitarist Anthony Pirog, cellist Janel Leppin and drummer Mike Kuhl.  

Topping off the month, perennial D.C. favorite Kenny Garrett will anchor Blues Alley for the final weekend of the month, including Thursday- and Friday-night shows. For all other live Jazz Appreciation Month needs, consult CB’s full D.C. jazz calendar


Friday, April 5, 7 p.m.
Woolly Mammoth Theater (tickets)
[view on calendar]

To refer to Saul Williams as a “poet” would be an act of accuracy and understatement. The artist has had a lengthy and varying career via his command of the word — as a New York Times-published poet; an actor known for portraying Tupac Shakur; a performer blurring rap and spoken word; and a foil to musicians like Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah and David Murray, or even Nine Inch Nails and Janelle Monae

Watch his 2016 Tiny Desk Concert to get an idea of his singular vision of Black performance traditions: form and genre evaporate as the fire of his word and performance synthesizes the heritage of Black American music and letters.


Sunday, April 7, 12 p.m.
Franklin Park (free)
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This multi-act bill serves as the culmination for the 2024 “Words, Beats and Life” festival in D.C., with a truly grand bill. It also happens to be a great example of the range of celebrations possible in this year’s Jazz Appreciation Month. Headlined by alternative, jazz-inflected hip-hop trio Digable Planets, the day’s events feature one of jazz’s great legacy acts, the Sun Ra Arkestra, as well as one of creative music’s rising stars, percussionist and bandleader Kassa Overall. Both acts push tonality and form in “jazz” to new heights, and to extraordinary new forms of beauty, with that new perspective. Also performing is R&B singer Madison McFerrin, who follows her own path as a vocalist and producer, while carrying the inspiration of her iconic vocalist father Bobby McFerrin.


Wednesday April 10, 8:00 p.m.
Kennedy Center – Concert Hall (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Jason Moran has guided not just the Kennedy Center’s jazz programming for the last decade, but directions in the music writ large throughout his 25-plus-year career. His solo piano works often have a pristine delicacy and beauty, ; his working band, The Bandwagon, trades in sometimes-fearsome grooves. He has collaborated meaningfully with the old guard, like Sam Rivers and Archie Shepp, and has written operas, tributes to Monk and Fats Waller, and more. Moran’s work showcases true dedication to the craft, and an endless imagination. He pays tribute to D.C.’s favorite son, Duke Ellington, with a set of solo piano renditions of selections from the Duke’s songbook.


Wednesday, April 24, 7:00 p.m.
Kennedy Center – Terrace Theater (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Cellist Tomeka Reid grew up in the D.C. area but has since established herself as a guiding force on Chicago’s storied experimental jazz scene. The MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant recipient spent much of her time in the Windy City, becoming an indispensable sound for some of that city’s creative sonic architects: Nicole Mitchell, Roscoe Mitchell and as a member of the reformed and expanded Art Ensemble of Chicago.  

At once broad and brittle, patient and surging, her playing achieves its emotional effects quickly. Perhaps that’s why she fits in so well with others of a similar ilk in her generation, like guitarist Mary Halvorson and percussionist Tomas Fujiwara.


Sunday April 28, 4 and 7 p.m.
The Mansion at Strathmore (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Amy K. Bormet grew up in D.C. learning from Davey Yarborough at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and further honing her voice at Howard University’s music program. Her chops, rooted in the tradition, are evident, but her voice as a composer draws on a range of influences from sparse Nordic jazz to lyrical, grooving, Afro-Cuban pianists. She’s a versatile pianist and vocalist — and the founder of the Washington Women in Jazz Festival.

She leads a contingent of some WWJF favorites, also some of the top musicians in D.C., to continue the celebration of femme-identifying and non-binary jazz and creative musicians in the region with a pair of sets at Strathmore’s Mansion.



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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