5 live jazz picks for February in D.C.

After a brief period of hibernation in January, the D.C. jazz scene is starting to roar back to life. Our region’s first major festival of the year returns when the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival takes over the Rockville Hilton Feb. 17 – 19, drawing tourists back into town and giving local musicians a spotlight next to some of the biggest names in straight-ahead jazz. You can buy tickets to individual shows, as well as day passes or bundles.

The Marx Café jazz jam returned to Mount Pleasant under the stewardship of vocalist Tibyron Quinn back in December. It is on hiatus for now but expected to return soon. The original steward of that gig, French hornist Abe Mamet (also an editor at CapitalBop), has launched a new jam on Wednesdays at Metrobar, bringing some regular programming back to Northeast. He’s joined there by a terrific house band: Amy K. Bormet on piano, Steve Arnold on bass and Keith Butler Jr. on drums. Over at Blues Alley, veteran straight-ahead singer Hazel Mitchell-Bell is in residency every Tuesday  this month.

Be sure to not sleep on some great touring acts coming to town: drummer and bandleader Allison Miller presents a multimedia musical homage to the United States’ five major rivers on Feb. 10 at Strathmore; the anointed standard-bearers of Gen Z jazz (or post-jazz?) DOMi and JD Beck play at the Kennedy Center Feb. 25; and Gregory Porter returns for his annual Valentine’s Day shows at the Warner Theater, Feb. 14 and 15. 

As always, check CapitalBop’s full D.C. jazz calendar for a full lineup of this month’s jazz shows in the area. 

No Trick Pony

Wednesday Feb. 1, 7 p.m.
Arts Club of Washington (tickets)
[view on calendar] 

No Trick Pony is a creative trio still in its relative infancy featuring pianist Amy K. Bormet, saxophonist Brian Settles and drummer Keith Butler Jr. The group’s music contrasts towering chords and harmonies built by Bormet with the dispersing, unstable rhythms conjured by Butler, as Settles’ sax hovers in between.

Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble

Monday, Feb. 6, 7 p.m.
Rhizome DC (tickets)
[view on calendar] 

Transparent Productions, D.C.’s stalwart creative production collective, brings Kahil El’Zabar’s mighty Ethnic Heritage Ensemble to town as an annual tradition during Black History Month. Blessedly, 2023 is no exception.  El’Zabar has led the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble for more than three decades, and its revolving membership has included some of the legendary musicians involved in Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). As a former president of the AACM, El’Zabar is deeply conversant with his own creative concept, as well as the society that has produced it.

Logan Richardson’s Blues People

Friday, Feb. 10, 7 p.m.
Kennedy Center – Studio K (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Logan Richardson proudly flies the flag of his native Kansas City, proving that it remains viable a hub for the music just as it was in the days of Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Jimmy Rushing and Count Basie. His work, however, never feels traditionalist or nostalgic. To the contrary, Richardson seems to base his vision of “jazz” on the bedrock of the blues and its offshoots: R&B, hip-hop, gospel, and rock, on top of modern post-bop. 

Blues People, his 2018 album and eponymous band, feels like a refreshing new take on “jazz,” one authentic to Richardson’s vision and experience, amalgamating the old and the new, as all great jazz is apt to do.

Chris Grasso Quintet

Friday, Feb. 17, 6 p.m.
Westminster Presbyterian Church ($10, Free for Kids 16 and Under)
[view on calendar] 

Pianist Chris Grasso is one of the most in-demand accompanists for D.C.’s jazz vocal greats. Folks like Sharón Clark, Alison Crockett and Lena Seikaly are all regular collaborators. Though he certainly knows how to highlight other musicians, his own voice sings with influences of Bill Evans and Red Garland, and as a bandleader, flexes a rare mastery of melody and balladry.

Here, he leads a group of some of the D.C. jazz scene’s best: Lyle Link on saxophone, Kenny Rittenhouse on trumpet, Zach Pride on bass and Julian Berkowitz on drums. Of course, it is hard to go wrong attending anything to do with D.C.’s legendary Friday night concert series and fish fry at Southwest’s Westminster Presbyterian Church.

The Bad Plus and Marc Ribot

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 8 p.m.
The Barns at Wolf Trap (tickets)
[view on calendar]

The Bad Plus — Reid Anderson on bass, Dave King on drums and now Ben Monder on guitar and Chris Speed on tenor saxophone — has a sound that is hard to pin down; it often feels like a chemical reaction between disparate elements happening in a crowded space. However, that reaction is almost always explosive, and satisfying.

Playing on the same bill is guitarist Marc Ribot, a maestro of musical alchemy on par with the Bad Plus. Ribot has worked with some of the greats of traditional jazz, while exploring his own experimental interests, which align closer with his more jazz-adjacent contemporaries like John Zorn and Tom Waits.



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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