5 D.C. jazz picks for September 2023

The 19th annual DC Jazz Festival is now in full swing; if you’re planning to attend, hop over to CapitalBop’s full festival guide for a rundown of which shows you really shouldn’t miss this weekend. But if you’re not going to make it (most of the major events are sold out by now), fear not: The festival is only the opening bell for D.C.’s fall music season. Great shows will be happening all month, and beyond, so read on for a rundown of what else you should be directing your ears toward in September.

In other D.C. jazz happenings, the formerly local (and widely beloved) pianist Chris Grasso returns to the city from New England to lead a show at Westminster Presbyterian’s “Jazz Night in D.C.” on Friday, Sep. 15. He’s back in full force with a killer band that features Lyle Link on saxophone, Kenny Rittenhouse on trumpet, Kris Funn on bass and Julian Berkowitz on drums.

Also of note: Funn and close collaborator Akua Allrich (full disclosure: a CapitalBop board member) have finally released the debut album of their long-running Idol Beings project, which CapitalBop first reported on back in 2018. Make sure to dive in and give a thorough listen to this years-long labor of love from two of D.C.’s greatest talents. No D.C.-area CD release show is planned yet, but we expect one to be announced soon; we’re keeping our eyes peeled.

Saxophonist Bobby Muncy is celebrating the release of a new record, Bad Reception, at Mr. Henry’s on Sep. 14. The album features an eclectic mix of tunes; the wide-ranging group of featured collaborators includes guitar wiz Anthony Pirog and prolific fusion and big band trumpeter Joe Herrera. 

That same night, the Puerto Rican-born saxophonist Miguel Zenón starts a two-night stint at Blues Alley, coming off the strength of his 2022 album Música De Las Américas, a musical examination of the history of the American continents.

In new recurring-gig news, drummer Jo Palmer is teaming up with Baltimore-based presenter The Sonic Lifeline (run by prolific scene photographer Nick Moreland) to present a new late night jam on U Street every Tuesday at Whitlow’s.

As always, for all your other showgoing needs, consult the full D.C. jazz calendar!


Saturday, Sep. 2, 6 p.m.
Kennedy Center – Millennium Stage (Free, but pre-reservation required)
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Virginia’s own James “Plunky” Branch embarked on his jazz journey in the height of the spiritual jazz movement in the early 1970s, learning from pioneering South African saxophonist Ndikho Xaba in San Francisco. 

Branch brought that spiritual, free, and Afro-infused sound into his early band, which he called Juju.  By the time he returned to the DMV in the mid-1970s and co-founded the progressive Black music label Black Fire records with Jimmy Gray, Branch’s band channeled its energy into something much funkier, balancing out the influence of Sun Ra with George Clinton. 

That ultimate sound, a decidedly funky yet still spiritually forceful vision of Black music, has become Branch’s signature sound ever since.


Saturday September 9, 8 p.m.
The Filene Center at Wolf Trap (tickets)
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Robert Glasper is, by now, one of the rare contemporary musicians whose name is ubiquitous in the jazz world. The pianist and bandleader grew up in the mold of keyboard masters like Ahmad Jamal and Herbie Hancock; later, he cut his teeth – and found a new sound – alongside icons of the neo-soul/hip-hop era of the early 2000s like Common and The Roots. He’s equally comfortable laying down punchy, post-bop jazz standards as he is crafting sensuous, spiritual grooves with his plugged-in band The Experiment. 

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Glasper comes to Wolf Trap to invoke the spirit and sounds  that helped make Glasper’s two “Black Radio” albums iconic statements of Black American Music.

Special guests include Common, Lupe Fiasco, Cordae, T3 and Rapsody.


Sunday September 17, 7:30 p.m.
Eaton House (tickets)
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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, but 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.

She kicks off a new series at Eaton House called “UnSound Sundays,” which will feature her and a cohort of creative musicians performing re-imagined scores to iconic silent films. The series begins with the iconic 1927 German science-fiction film “Metropolis.”


Friday August 25, 6 p.m.
Westminster Presbyterian Church ($10, Free for Kids 16 and Under)
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Pianist Allyn Johnson – the “Dean of D.C. Jazz” and head of the jazz program at UDC – is a figurehead in the local jazz scene. He is lion-like on the ivories, punching out colorful, complex chords and harmonies that spread constantly through the music.

He leads a sextet featuring other iconic D.C. educators and musicians: Paul Carr on saxophone, Thad Wilson on trumpet, Reginald Cyntje on trombone, Herman Burney on bass as well as Kelton Norris on drums.


Thursday September 28, 8 p.m.
Takoma Station (tickets)
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Christie Dashiell may be D.C.’s greatest vocal export since the great Shirley Horn. Dashiell comes from a family of DMV musicians – her brother, CV Dashiell is one of the most prominent drummers on the scene – and that deep knowledge of the tradition comes across in every tune. After making her mark as a member of Howard University’s signature Afro-Blue vocal group, Dashiell has been flitting in and out of the city as she raises her profiles singing with the likes of Marcus Strickland and Marquis Hill. There is an enchanting effortlessness with which she sings and swings, warming the hearts and ears of all who gather.



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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