5 live jazz picks for October in D.C.

Festival season has passed, though the city’s jazz scene will stay hot even as autumn rolls in. And by avoiding a government shutdown, our region has dodged (for now) an economic strain that would have certainly affected the venues where much of this music is performed.

October is, of course, the month of Halloween. Though jazz tends to stay away from the horror business (minus the occasional offbeat record cover), fans can still get their spooky thrills at the Eaton, where Amy K. Bormet will return this month with the next installment of her UnSound Sundays series. 

I attended the first event – where she and a five-piece band played a new and partly improvised score to the iconic 1920s German science-fiction epic Metropolis – and I cannot recommend the series enough. The next screening and live scoring come two days before Halloween, when she and a killer group – including Sarah Marie Hughes on saxophone and Keith Butler Jr. on drums – will perform to Nosferatu, the first unofficial film adaptation of Dracula and a landmark piece of horror cinema. Bormet brought in a similar group to live-score the same film last Halloween, to thrilling results.

All Hallow’s Eve is also a time to collectively remember and honor the departed; in that spirit, trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse leads a tribute to the recently departed, beloved Baltimorean trumpeter Tom Williams with a group of DMV all-stars : Lyle Link on saxophone, Darius Scott on piano, Herman Burney on bass and Nasar Abadey on drums. The show will take place at Southwest D.C.’s “jazz church,” Westminster Presbyterian, on Friday, Oct. 13.

Jazz is back to being a regular feature at Adams Morgan’s Bukom Café. Saxophonist Bobby Muncy was holding it down on Wednesdays at the 18th Street spot in September; now, he and Elijah Jamal Balbed will trade weeks this month. 

For all other jazz needs, consult the full D.C. jazz calendar. (You’ll find a link on that page to our contact form, too; do let us know if anything is missing or out-of-date on the calendar. We always love to hear from you.)


Friday October 6, 7:30 p.m.
Jojo Restaurant and Bar (No cover)
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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 or leading groups that create murky and moody hip-hop. Having toured the world with icons such as Isaac Hayes, Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln, Bowie brings a wide breadth of musical experience wherever he goes. At Jojo, a stalwart U Street jazz club, he also serves as booker. 


Saturday October 14, 7 p.m.
Rhizome DC (tickets)
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This multi-act bill features the Cairo-formed trio The Dwarfs of East Agouza, which performs improvised music that draws heavily on North African rhythmic traditions and Tuareg guitar playing. Joining them are Deakin & Geologist, a duo that comprises one-half of the pioneering (and still-going-strong) Baltimore avant-pop group Animal Collective, and local powerhouse saxophonist Jenny Moon Tucker. The show will be presented as part of the Secret Planet concert series, a new-to-D.C. program curated by the local label Electric Cowbell, which seeks to pair international artists with local legends in creative spaces around the city.


Saturday October 21, 7:00 p.m.
Kennedy Center – Terrace Theater (tickets)
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Trumpeter Charles Tolliver first entered the jazz consciousness when his band appeared on The New Wave in Jazz, a compilation album of choice cuts from a live recording that Impulse! Records made in 1965 benefiting Amiri Baraka’s Harlem-based Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS). Tolliver was the session’s rookie, appearing alongisde John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Grachan Moncur III and Albert Ayler. 

Like all those individuals had before him, Tolliver then struck out on his own, fiercely independent path in the progressive Black music landscape of the 1960s and ’70s (and beyond). He made arguably his deepest mark on the music’s history when he co-founded Strata-East Records in 1971 with pianist Stanley Cowell; the label provided a space for forward-thinking, progressive Black musicians (including D.C.’s own Brother Ahh) to put forth their ideas into the world, all within a revolutionary business structure that would serve as a model for future artist-driven collectives.

In this special Kennedy Center performance, Tolliver leads a performance of music from Coltrane’s Africa/Brass with help from Howard University’s Afro-Blue choir.


Tuesday October 24, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Blues Alley (tickets)
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Paul Carr is one of the most venerated bandleaders and educators in the Mid-Atlantic region. The tenor saxophonist runs the Jazz Academy of Music, directs the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival and still finds time to belt out some honey-sweet, sonorous melodies on his horn. 

He has a weekly residency this month at Blues Alley, leading various groups through standards and originals, channeling the strong melodic sense of hard-bop titans like Dexter Gordon and Lee Morgan. Here, he’s joined for the fourth and final installment of his residency by former Count Basie Orchestra vocalist Carmen Bradford.


Friday October 27, 7 p.m.
Rhizome DC (tickets)
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Anthony Pirog uses his guitar and effects pedals to make collages that steadily intensify, then zag into darkness or white-hot light. His 2014 solo debut, Palo Colorado Dream, was a breakout success for the D.C.-area guitar hero, while his tenure with the genre-blurring Messthetics – his trio alongside post-punk legends Joe Lally and Brendan Canty – has continued to bring him widespread acclaim.

Janel Leppin is also one of the District’s finest bandleaders, harnessing a nuanced sensibility for both composition and improvisation that produces restless, complex sonic textures ranging from lush and beautiful to sharp and arresting. She’s widely respected in the DMV for her work leading her ensemble Volcanic Ash, and as half of the power duo Janel and Anthony, alongside Pirog.

The two perform separate solo sets as part of a celebration of the release of Pirog’s forthcoming album, The Nepenthe Series, Vol. 1.



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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