5 D.C. jazz picks for July 2024

I hope you’re all staying hydrated as temperatures climb in the nation’s capital. I also hope as many of you as possible made it to Rhizome to see cellist Janel Leppin’s double album release — featuring her groups Janel and Anthony and Ensemble Volcanic Ash, respectively — late last month. If you didn’t, you can still listen to the albums (and read about them at the link above). Rhizome is hosting another record-release event this month as Dream Feeder, the ambient jazz trio of saxophonist Brad Linde, guitarist Nelson Dougherty and drummer Keith Butler Jr., celebrates its first album, everything at once, on July 9.

Other highlights for the month add up to a strong showing from the straight-ahead side of the D.C. jazz scene: Trumpeter John Lamkin II brings his venerable Favorites Quintet to the District twice in as many weeks: at Westminster Presbyterian’s “Jazz Night” on July 12 and Takoma Station on July 20. Then, the Trinidadian trumpeter Etienne Charles returns to D.C. with his Creole Soul band, hitting the Carlyle Room on July 26. Lamkin’s son, drummer John Lamkin III, will play the Carlyle at the end of the month with a tribute to Bill Withers on July 30.

For all your other show-going needs, including many more gigs that are indoors and air-conditioned, consult the full D.C. jazz calendar


Wednesday, June 3, 7 p.m.
Rhizome DC (tickets)
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This multi-act bill is headlined by Aaron Irwin, a saxophonist and clarinetist who creates dreamy, melodious electro-jazz that invites listeners in. Irwin will be joined in his trio by guitarist Mike Baggeta and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. 

Opening for Irwin are a pair of groups led by two strong bandleaders and improvisers from our region. In Dave Ballou’s hands, the trumpet is a supremely malleable instrument, capable of bellowing guttural roars or singing out sweetly and brightly. A longtime fixture of the Baltimore creative scene, he can often be found on this end of the I-95 corridor at Rhizome with fellow sonic adventures like Mike Kuhl or (CapitalBop co-founder) Luke Stewart. Ballou’s quartet here will feature Kuhl as well as Adam Hopkins on bass and John Dierker on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone.

For pianist and accordion player Simone Baron, genre is fluid and malleable, more like a box of toys to play with than a series of rigid subdivisions in music. While the roots of her sound can be found in the stylistic and sonic trappings of “jazz” and Western classical tradition, it draws on a broad range from Hindustani classical and various folk traditions as well as free improvisation. Here she leads a trio with Zoe Jorgensen on bass and Angel Bethea on drums.


Friday, July 5, 6 p.m.
Westminster Presbyterian Church ($10 admission fee, free for kids under 16)
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When Dick Smith’s pro football career ended in 1968 he pivoted into becoming a tireless champion for the straight-ahead tradition of the D.C. jazz scene. A veteran singer who loves the ballads, but has also made funky pop with members of Zapp, Smith worked with Tony Taylor’s Lettumplay jazz-education program before he helped co-found Westminster Presbyterian Church’s “Jazz Night” series.

The longtime curator takes center stage this Friday to celebrate his 80th birthday day alongside a cast of other elders and “Jazz Night” favorites: Lyle Link on saxophone, Orlando Wilson on guitar, Greg Lamont on organ, Wade Beach on piano, Steve Novosel on bass, Steve Walker on drums and DeAndre Howard on trumpet.


Saturday, July 20 and Sunday, July 21, 7 and 9 p.m.
Blues Alley (tickets)
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Bassist and composer Ben Williams is one of the District’s star expats, often appearing on national bandstands with elite talent from across the country such as Pat Metheny, Terence Blanchard and Stefon Harris. Williams’ own sound as a leader is still nascent — he’s recently started iterating on neo-soul as a part-time vocalist — but all of his music is clearly shaped by the contemporary jazz world he plays in, and his facility and confidence on upright and electric basses is impressive.


Friday July 26, 6 p.m.
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (tickets, advanced registration required)
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Brent Birckhead is an archetypal product of the D.C. jazz scene. He’s a strong straight-ahead player, but also well-versed in go-go, R&B and the other popular sounds of the city. Armed with dual music degrees from Howard University and years of experience playing with local acts like Akua Alrich and the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, on top of touring with the likes of Lauryn Hill and DNCE, Birckhead has more recently honed his skills as a bandleader.

This concert is presented as part of the Jazz in the Garden series, which means that those who want a concert experience devoted to active listening — and not gabbing at a crescendo over endless pitchers of Sangria — should make sure to line up early to get in the central fountain area, which has the best sonic lines to the stage.


Saturday July 27, 7 p.m.
Takoma Station Tavern (tickets)
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Todd Marcus may be the most prominent improviser in contemporary jazz whose main instrument is the bass clarinet. The Baltimore-based composer, bandleader and activist-by-day makes a strong case for why the instrument deserves more recognition — whether he’s coaxing out deep melancholy in ballads or unleashing a cascade of overtones in “sheets of sound”-style playing. 

Joining Marcus on this date is Virginia MacDonald, a rising force on clarinet in the Canadian straight-ahead jazz scene, who has a remarkable command of the instrument and a lyrical style. The way the pair weave melodies together is something to experience in person.



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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