5 D.C. jazz picks for March 2024

Whenever March rolls around, I cannot help but think back to this time four years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the United States. The D.C. jazz scene weathered much that year, between venues shuttering, income all but disappearing, and cherished community members dying. Though deep scars remain, they are now counterbalanced by signs of healing and vitality. This month’s jazz calendar is a testament to that, and to the resilience of the scene as a whole.

The Carlyle Room, whose bookings are curated by former Blues Alley manager Kris Ross, is bringing some major talent this month. Veteran rock and jazz drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana is bringing her band to the downtown club on March 15 and 16. The room plays host to the venerable SFJAZZ Collective, featuring the DMV’s own Warren Wolf, on March 23, luring the group away from its usual March performance at Strathmore. 

Instead, the North Bethesda concert hall will host a multi-generational summit of Afro-Cuban music when trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and percussionist Pedrito Martinez perform this Sunday, March 10. (For something even more rhythmically driven and international, Afrobeat/Afrofusion pioneer Burna Boy is holding court at the Capital One Arena on March 7.)

Those looking for a more local focus can turn to the Kennedy Center, which is hosting a variety of programming over the next two months in honor of Duke Ellington’s 125th birthday. Be sure to check out the Ellington Big Band’s return home with powerhouse vocalist Lisa Fischer on March 15 and a special National Symphony Orchestra presentation of Ellingtonia on March 17. And, while not billed formally as part of “Ellington 125,” the Igmar Thomas Revive Big Band will appear at the Kennedy Center on March 29, representing the contemporary large-ensemble jazz world.

For all other live jazz needs, Ellingtonian and otherwise, consult the full D.C. jazz calendar


Friday, March 8, 6 p.m.
Westminster Presbyterian Church, $10 entry fee but free for kids 16 and under
[view on calendar]

Amy K. Bormet grew up in D.C. learning from Davey Yarborough at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and further honed her voice at Howard University’s music program. Her chops, rooted in the tradition, are evident, and her voice as a composer draws on a range of influences from sparse Nordic jazz to lyrical, grooving, Afro-Cuban pianists. She’s a versatile pianist and vocalist — and the founder of the Washington Women in Jazz Festival (WWJF), a March tradition now in its 14th year.

She leads a contingent of some WWJF favorites – who also happen to be some of the top musicians in D.C. – to celebrate International Women’s Day with a performance at D.C.’s jazz church. She’s joined by Akua Allrich and Rose Moraes on vocals, Karine Chapdelaine on bass, Rian Graham on drums and Rikkayah Wilson on percussion.


Monday, March 11, 7 p.m.
Georgetown Day School – Theater Lab (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Prominent arranger and jazz orchestra composer Mark Masters pairs with D.C.’s own Brad Linde to present a tribute to the enigmatic and always original composer Sam Rivers. Linde, a prolific bandleader and composer himself, pulls together a strong band of top local talent — many of whom have held tenure in big bands like the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra — like saxophonists Leigh Pilzer and Billy Wolfe, creative trumpeter Dave Ballou, veteran trombonist Jen Krupa, pianist Harry Appelman and bassist Eliot Seppa.

Joining the proceedings is the great ’70s jazz hero Billy Harper, a saxophonist best known for his magnum opus, Capra Black.


Thursday, March 14, 7:30 p.m.
The Carlyle Room (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Lenny Robinson is one of D.C.’s gigging veterans, often seen on bandstands with the city’s fellow finest. His focused and forceful approach to the drums comes through on any bandstand, but it’s especially clear when he’s leading a group: Expect gutsy, stripped-down and subtly funky iterations on the straight-ahead jazz sound when you catch one of his ensembles live. Exploration is a strong group that regularly features pianist Janelle Gill, bassist Michael Bowie and vibraphonist Chris Barrick. The band will perform a special set with pianist Cyrus Chestnut filling in for Gill, honoring the music of Bobby Hutcherson.


Saturday, March 16, 8 p.m.
Mr. Henry’s (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Originally from Minneapolis, vocalist Imani-Grace Cooper has become a steady force on the D.C. music scene since her graduation from Howard University’s legendary jazz program in 2016. She performs sensitive interpretations of standards as well as genre-blurring original work.

A globetrotter, Cooper has performed around the world, from New York to Dubai, and this is a too-rare opportunity to catch her leading a performance back in her home base of D.C. Here, she will be joined by The Voice’s Terrence Cunningham, who will accompany Cooper on piano and vocals.


Saturday, March 30, 8 p.m.
Lincoln Theater (tickets)
[view on calendar]

From adding his own color the singular sound world of avant-garde icon John Zorn, to playing delicate duets with vibraphone icon Gary Burton, to offering up masterclasses on contemporary-jazz dynamics on his own albums, guitarist Julian Lage can do it all. His highly melodic playing is rarely derivative of others in the jazz guitar world, and his two new albums with the storied Blue Note label — 2021’s Squint and this 2022’s View With A Room — are some of his finest work.



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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