5 live jazz picks for February in D.C.

Welcome to April, and Happy Black History Month! With it arrive some time-honored DMV traditions, like the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival as well as Transparent Productions’ annual presentation of Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble; more on that below.

Luke Stewart (CB’s co-founder) returns to D.C. with his powerful Silt Trio — whose album The Bottom was the CapitalBop top jazz album of 2022, by the way — at a new pop-up organized by Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson of #DontMuteDC this coming Monday, Feb. 5. Two days later, the Library of Congress is hosting a free screening of the new PBS documentary, Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes (reserved tickets are required). 

Toward the end of the month, Rhizome DC will host an exciting series of local performers. First, No Trick Pony — the power trio of Amy K. Bormet, Brian Settles and Keith Butler Jr. — performs as part of a multi-act bill on Feb. 18. Two nights later, Sarah Hughes performs in a duo with Derrick Michaels as they open for the avant jazz-rock outfit Mostly Other People Do the Killing. That week wraps up with a concert celebrating the launch of Outside Time, a new creative music label in D.C., with a performance by percussionist Nate Scheible, whose or valleys and is the label’s first release.

In new-series news, pianist Minh Vo hosts a trio gig and jam session every other Friday at A Baked Joint, offMt. Vernon Square. The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra seems to have found a new semi-permanent landing zone as it continues with the third of its monthly shows at the Carlyle Room (on the 21st of this month). Lastly, French hornist Abe Mamet (disclosure: CB’s assistant editor) is now hosting a trio gig every Saturday at the Lost Generation Brewery in Eckington. 

For all other live jazz needs, including any Valentine’s Day-related planning, consult CB’s full D.C. jazz calendar


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

It’s an annual tradition for Transparent Productions to feature the mighty Ethnic Heritage Ensemble during Black History Month. For five decades, the Chicago-based drummer/percussionist/vocalist Kahil El’Zabar has led the group, and its revolving membership has included some of the legendary musicians involved in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). As a former president of the organization, El’Zabar is deeply immersed in his own creative concept, as well as the society that has produced it. 


Friday, Feb. 16, 8 p.m.
Howard Theater (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Chicago-born and -based vocalist, rapper and poet Jamila Woods is not a member of the AACM or the Art Ensemble of Chicago, but she embodies the spirit of “Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future.” A frequent collaborator of other Chicagoans like Chance the Rapper, Nico Segal and noname, Woods’s music encompasses elements of neo-soul, gospel, jazz and hip-hop, a hybrid that has become a bit of a calling card for the Windy City. Woods’s work also invokes the intellectual traditions of figures like James Baldwin and Angela Davis. Her songs can uplift and crush the soul in the same measure.


Saturday, Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Kennedy Center – Studio K (tickets)
[view on calendar]

In the last decade, bassist Linda May Han Oh has risen from young bass phenomenon to a true force in the creative music world. From playing with Pat Metheny to participating in a collaborative trio with Vijay Iyer and Tyshawn Sorey — and of course leading her own group — Oh’s approach to the bass is dexterous and malleable, serving as both a foundation and counter-melody to the rest of the band. Each of her recent projects has revolved around some central concept, like Marcel Marceau’s mime routine, “Walking Against the Wind,” and the Aventurine gemstone. Her new group and album, “The Glass Hours,” explore the fragility of life.


Thursday, Feb. 22, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Kennedy Center – Studio K (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Pianist Myra Melford and drummer Allison Miller co-lead the Lux Quartet, a group that showcases their shared love of conceptual music, the natural world and flowing, serene melodies. The name derives from the multi-faceted presence of light in earthly existence, from the life-giving rays of the sun to the organic self-sustaining light of bioluminescent creatures in the darkest parts of the ocean. That certainly comes through in their playing, as well as bandmates Dayna Stephens on saxophone and bassist Scott Colley, as the four create compositions that flow like a babbling stream in the sun, gleaming with flecks of light.


Friday, Feb. 23, 8 p.m.
Music Center at Strathmore (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Over the last five years or so, drummer and producer Makaya McCraven has become the standard-bearer for a new modernist strain of jazz. His remix projects Deciphering the Message and We’re New Again reimagine classic works by Blue Note jazz artists and by Gil Scott-Heron, respectively. Meanwhile, his own mixtapes and albums like Where We Come From and Universal Beings showcase a strong vision of forward-thinking, style-blurring jazz and improvised music, in conversation with the present-day scenes in London and Chicago. All of that collides when he leads his own bands, like he does here, celebrating the release of his 2022 album In These Times at the helm of an all-star, 12-person ensemble that includes Brandee Younger on harp, Joel Ross on vibraphone and Marquis Hill on trumpet. (Disclosure: Giovanni Russonello, CB’s co-founder, is leading a pre-show discussion of McCraven’s method.)



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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