5 live jazz picks for July in D.C.

We’re in the peak of summer now, which means a healthy mix of indoor and outdoor concerts to hear. One excellent outdoor option is Elijah Jamal Balbed’s curated series at the Kreeger Museum, which has become a worthwhile pilgrimage for jazz fans: The setting is gorgeous and the music always on point. On July 22, the Kreeger hosts a whole afternoon of music with vocalist Sara Zhu and Balbed’s own “Fiesta Mojo Band,” which features the great percussionist Fran Vielma.

Takoma Station, through booker Michael Philips, this month offers a strong lineup of straight-ahead luminaries: saxophonist Paul Carr, trumpeter Leo Maxey, vocalist Heidi Martin and Corcoran Holt at the end of the month, this time with trombonist Steve Turre.

For fellowship and consistently strong music, Westminster Presbyterian continues to come through. Lenny Robinson’s fantastic group Exploration – which features Michael Bowie on bass, Janelle Gill on piano and Chris Barrick on vibraphone – appears there on July 7, and on July 21 trumpeter Michael Thomas’s quintet celebrates its 25th year as a band.

Some rebranding and other changes afoot on the scene: The space that housed Columbia Station for many years is now Shanklin Hall, a Black-run membership club and bar that is hosting the Nag Champa Art Ensemble every Thursday this summer. Next door, Green Island Café – the space that took over Columbia Station’s jazz programming after the iconic club shut its doors – has rebranded itself as Moonlight, but fortunately retained its jazz programming, with stalwart pianist Peter Edelman holding things down most nights.

Also, pianist Colin Chambers is now at the helm at Jojo’s on U Street every Friday night – a gig that Joe Brotherton had previously held – and vocalist Jennifer Patience Rowe of BOOMscat is taking over Soulful Sundays at St. Vincent Wine.

For all other nightly jazz info, consult our comprehensive listings on the D.C. jazz calendar.


Saturday July 1, 7 p.m.
Takoma Station Tavern (tickets)
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Alex Hamburger grew up in Silver Spring, hitting the jazz jams to hone her chops. The flutist, vocalist, composer and bandleader makes post-bop jazz from the perspective of a singer-songwriter, with melodies that are warm and inviting.

She celebrates the release of her new album “What If,” which has a more J Dilla-esque, grooving, electro-jazz-inspired feel.


Friday July 7, 8 p.m.
Howard Theater (tickets)
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The Blackbyrds are a D.C. jazz institution going back five decades. Pulled together by the legendary hard-bop trumpeter and soul fusionist Donald Byrd, who taught its founding members at Howard University, the Blackbyrds started performing Byrd’s tunes, inspired by ’70s funk, R&B and electrified bop. The group’s sound has morphed with the times and the evolving sound of R&B, but its musicianship has remained unquestionable. The band celebrates its 50th anniversary with a kick-off at the Howard Theater.[1] 


Thursday July 13, 7 p.m.
Rhizome D.C. (tickets)
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This multi-act bill features free improvising Chilean guitarist Luis “ToTo” Alvarez, the D.C.-based strings and electronics free improvising duo of Gary Rouzer and Daniel Barbiero, as well as the celebrated pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn. 

Alcorn, a Maryland native, is unquestionably one of the most important pedal steel players of her generation — particularly in improvised music, a field in which she has recently begun to gain more traction through her work both as a leader and in the Mary Halvorson Octet. Alcorn’s sonic contribution to the music, not just in melodic language but in texture and technique, is something to behold.


Thursday July 20, 5 p.m.
Smithsonian American Art Museum Kogod Courtyard, Free
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Drummer Keith Butler Jr. is part of the young generation of D.C. jazz musicians that now command as much presence and prestige in the scene as some veterans. With his trio, he plays lush, Americana-esque original music indebted to Bill Frisell. He also has a solid command of the tradition and can swing with the best of them.


Monday July 31, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Blues Alley (tickets)
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Multi-instrumentalist and singer Samuel Prather is a true renaissance man of a musician, building his sound on layers of gospel, jazz, funk, neo-soul and West African music. It makes for a potent and infectious mix.

He sometimes scales down the usual eight- or nine-piece Groove Orchestra into a 4tet; this is the band that haunted the former Eighteenth Street Lounge before its closing during the pandemic. That crew of standout musicians – Eliot Seppa on bass, Ephraim Dorsey on saxophone and Charles Wilson on drums – was well suited to the atmosphere, playing interpolations of Timbaland as well as deep cuts from Herbie Hancock. Let’s see how it fits the Blues Alley vibe.



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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