5 D.C. jazz picks for May 2024

The D.C. scene has a fiery lineup of shows coming up in May to match the recent flash of premature summer heat.

In particular, May 19 (Malcolm X’s 99th birthday) appears to be a day of cosmic alignment for otherworldly jazz offerings, and several shows that day could have made the picks list below, as easily as the one that did. Most prominently, George Clinton once again touches down in D.C. as he and Parliament-Funkadelic bring their super heavy, heady funk back to the 9:30 Club. Across the Potomac, the Birchmere will host the Sun Ra Arkestra just six days ahead of saxophonist and bandleader Marshall Allen’s 100th arrival day. 

Some other anniversary celebrations this month include a release party for singer Alison Crockett’s new album (a 20th anniversary revisitation of her first recording) at Blues Alley on May 9; Elijah Jamal Balbed marking the 10th birthday of his signature jazz-fusion group the Jo-Go Project, at the Carlyle Room on May 23; and the Blackbyrds continuing to mark their 50th anniversary with a show at the Carlyle Room May 26.

The first weekend of this month also brings a special celebration of sorts at Takoma Station, where the club will once again haul a baby grand on its stage for in honor of back-to-back shows with ivory masters Benito Gonzalez and Allyn Johnson on May 4 and May 5.

There’s also the annual Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center May 10 and May 11, featuring performances by Ingrid Jensen, Eliane Elias and Endea Owens.

For all other needs, including the return of Jazz in the Garden at the end of the month, consult the full D.C. jazz calendar


Wednesday, May 1, 6 p.m.
Takoma Station (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Born and raised in Silver Spring, saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed is equally comfortable blowing some burnished, buoyant hard-bop and grooving in the pocket of a go-go band. He can often be found leading groups of other young ambassadors of the D.C. jazz through originals and standards that swing just right. 

He pays tribute to his mother, Maryam “SkaterMom” Balbed, a longtime activist for the D.C. jazz scene, who died this year, with an all-star group: Thad Wilson on trumpet, Allyn Johnson and Harry Appelman on keyboards, Michael Bowie on bass, and Lenny Robinson and Kelton Norris on drums.


Friday, May 10, 6 and 9:30 p.m.
AMP by Strathmore (tickets)
[view on calendar]

A heady performer and composer, D.C.-area native Allison Miller is well-known as a jazz innovator. Undeniable rock grooves coexist with swing in her fluid and dynamic, flexible yet powerful attack on the drums. Miller has toured the world with everyone from the folk singer Ani DiFranco and Americana queen Brandi Carlisle to the jazz organ master Dr. Lonnie Smith. Here, she leads her regular working band Boom Tic Boom, with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Caroline Davis on saxophone, Shamie Royston on piano, and Rashaan Carter on bass.


Saturday, May 18, 7:00 p.m.
Rhizome (tickets)
[view on calendar]

Avant-garde drummer and sonic contourist William Hooker is as interested in texture as he is in percussion. His music rumbles, trembles and tenses; it can pulse with real urgency, without charging toward any particular endpoint. He’s been a considerable force in free jazz since arriving on the New York City scene in the mid-1970s, and continues to make his own way. Transparent Productions brings Hooker to Rhizome to lead a trio with Alex Lozupone on guitar and Dave Sewelson on baritone saxophone.


Sunday, May 19, 7:30 p.m.
Lincoln Theater (free registration)
[view on calendar]

Aaron Diehl, a discovery of Wynton Marsalis who has become a darling of the straight-ahead jazz world, maintains a direct stylistic connection to the music of his idols, like Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. Over the past year, Diehl has been exploring the music of another old master, Mary Lou Williams, presenting her seminal “Zodiac Suite” in a modern context. 

Intended for a full orchestra, the suite of 12 compositions, written in the mid-1940s and recorded by Williams’ trio in 1945 for Asch Records, blended then-modern jazz with classical techniques and displayed her many gifts as a composer. Tunes like “Gemini” could start as bebop changes before transforming into pastoral, Dvorak-like sound paintings. Diehl, who released his own version of Williams’s astrological suite last September, pairs up with the U.S. Air Force Band to present the full suite for the first time in D.C.


Thursday, May 30 and Friday, May 31, 7 and 9 p.m.
Blues Alley (tickets)
[view on calendar]

The drummer Louis Hayes launched his career in the 1950s with Yusef Lateef, and went on to play with stars like Cannonball Adderley and Horace Silver. An energetic and unrelenting percussionist, Hayes can blow away listeners with a subtle yet explosive bass drum, or the simple fervor of his swing. Even at 86 years old, he’s still a force on the bandstand. He leads a group through the kind of driving yet easy-on-the-way-down hard bop he once played with Lateef and Silver.



About Jackson Sinnenberg

view all posts

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.

You May Like This