5 D.C. jazz picks for June 2024

Now that summer is in full swing, so is the season of outdoor festivals, bringing with it a breadth of artists from around the country and the Black American Music world. Capital Jazz Fest returns to Merriweather Post Pavilion June 7, 8 and 9 with a strong lineup of artists that exemplify the modern-day jazz world’s blurring lines between R&B, soul and hip-hop. Fans can expect to hear a number of jazz-informed but genre-diverse artists like trumpeter Theo Croker, bassist and vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello, trumpeter Keyon Harold, saxophonist and vocalist Braxton Cook, and vocalist Lalah Hathaway. 

Later in the month, the Home Rule Music Festival — a CapitalBop co-presentation — returns on June 21 and 22. The opening night at the Black Cat features Elijah Jamal Balbed’s jazz-go-go fusion group the Jo-Go Project (celebrating its 10th anniversary) as well as spiritual jazz organ legend Doug Carn with his new sextet. The festival then returns to the Parks at Walter Reed on June 22 for its third year with a strong line-up of local legends like go-go band Rare Essence and funk and spiritual jazz saxophone icon Gary Bartz. Headlining the weekend is ’70s avant-garde free-jazz pioneer Idris Ackamoor with his group the Pyramids. 

The DC Jazz Festival is also capitalizing on the summertime fervor, and has been hosting free concerts at National Landing Virginia’s Metropolitan Park every Thursday since May. The festival’s main event is no longer in June, but a this particular series continues all month with a strong group of artists, including flautist and vocalist Alex Hamburger on June 6 and Akua Allrich (a CB board member) and the Tribe on June 20.

In a bit of unfortunate news, a couple of weekly gigs across the city have stopped, at least for now. French horn player Abe Mamet’s signature Wednesday jam at Metrobar is no more (disclosure: Mamet is also CapitalBop’s assistant editor) and Jo Palmer’s very popular Tuesday session at Whitlow’s, presented by the Sonic Lifeline, has gone on hiatus until September. 

For all other needs, including some gigs that are indoors and air conditioned (!), consult the full D.C. jazz calendar


Friday, June 7, 7 and 9 p.m.
Kennedy Center – Terrace Theater (tickets)
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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 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 wife, Alicia Hall, is a celebrated, genre-blurring artist in her own right. A vocalist with feet in the opera, theater, and jazz worlds — exemplified by her performance in the 2011 Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess — her soaring, malleable abilities are well suited to the kinds of high-concept productions she and her husband create.

Here the pair present “Family Ball,” a celebration of their careers presented through each other’s eyes.


Thursday, June 13, 4:30 p.m.
Metropolitan Park at National Landing (Register here)
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Bassist Michael Bowie is a chameleon-like musician, moving between projects every couple of years. He’s always exploring some new musical avenue, whether putting together a swinging program of standards culled from films of the ’40s and ’50s, or leading groups that create murky and moody hip-hop. A veteran of the road with icons like Isaac Hayes and Betty Carter, here he resurrects his powerhouse ensemble, Siné Qua Non.

The group accomplishes an effortless coalescence of West African rhythms, Western classical techniques, straight-ahead jazz and 1980s pop sensibility. The expert group includes Victor Provost on steel pan, Mark Prince on drums, and Lyle Link on saxophone and flute.


Friday June 14, 7:00 p.m.
District Kitchen (free)
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Elijah Easton is one of the DMV’s most awe-inspiring young talents, but a Google search on him won’t turn up much. Like many of D.C.’s great artists, Easton has built his career confidently but quietly, embedded deep within the city’s music community, doing the work, waiting patiently for the rewards to come as they will. You can find Easton at the center of many of D.C.’s most exciting musical projects: the future-funk of Nag Champa; the go-go fusion of Marc Cary’s Indigenous People; the hard-hitting post-bop of the late-night hangs at JoJo.*


Saturday June 22, 7:00 p.m.
Takoma Station (tickets)
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Whether leading one of her own large ensembles, anchoring the saxophone section of a big band or stepping out front in a trio, Leigh Pilzer and her baritone sax are key threads in the fabric of the D.C. jazz scene. While not exclusively a baritone player, the instruemnt is her signature, whether in her own bands like “Seven-Pointed Star” or signature area orchestras like the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. 

In her own groups, Pilzer favors the sounds of mid-century modal and hard-bop, which allow the baritone to command the flow of the rhythm and for its deep sonority to sink into the music. She performs here with her group Low Standards.


Friday, June 28, 7 p.m.
Rhizome D.C. (tickets)
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The duo of cellist Janel Leppin and guitarist Anthony Pirog makes music that is restlessly beautiful, tranquil yet intense, intimate in scope but open and unlimited in its intention. They have put out several records on the Cuneiform label together, but have been less active as a duo in recent years as each has focused on other projects. 

One such project: Leppin’s widely acclaimed group Ensemble Volcanic Ash, an arrangement of some of the best improvisers in D.C.: alto saxophonist Sarah Marie Hughes, tenor saxophonist Brian Settles, drummer Larry Ferguson and Pirog. Leppin has become one of the District’s finest bandleaders, harnessing a nuanced sensibility for both composition and improvisation that produces complex sonic textures ranging from lush and beautiful to sharp and arresting.

With this show, the two very-much-overlapping groups celebrate the release of their new albums, each on Cuneiform.

* Disclosure: CapitalBop team members Jamie Sandel and Abe Mamet book the music at District Kitchen. They didn’t play a part in selecting or editing the Elijah Easton item.



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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