DC Jazz Festival 2023 guide

The DC Jazz Festival is back this weekend for its 19th year, and its third since moving from early summer to Labor Day weekend. While the festival has condensed in the last few years, and no longer features the weeks-long, city-wide sprawl of its pre-pandemic editions, it has certainly upped the density of shows during the time it does occupy. As in years past, most of the festival’s programming will take place in and around the Wharf in Southwest D.C., with the main parts of the festival taking place along the piers.

Tickets for the DCJF’s main event at District Pier are now sold out, but die-hards should still be able to snag a half-decent view, free of charge, by rubber-necking from Wharf Street. And shows at other venues, like Union Stage and the Anthem, still have some tickets available.

CapitalBop is happy to offer this handy guide to the events this weekend we think are not to be missed, for the fans and musicians alike. 


Friday, Sep. 1, 6:30 p.m.
Union Stage [tickets]
[view on calendar] 

Leigh Pilzer, arguably the city’s top baritone saxophonist, is a longtime fixture of big bands like the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra as well as her own small combos. Here she leads her “startet,” featuring eminent D.C. jazz musicians Amy Shook on bass, Allyn Johnson on piano and Greg Hollway on drums. The group will play both classic standards and some of Pilzer’s bopping originals.


Friday, Sep. 1, 8:00 p.m.
The Anthem [tickets]
[view on calendar]

Gregory Porter has a timeless sound, and yet seems like no singer before him. His warm baritone could feel at home in a 1950s club in Harlem or a modern stage with all the trappings of 21st century production. His songwriting is equally layered, providing both accessibility at first but new flavors with each listen.

As in years past, the DC JazzFest will take over the Anthem for a special night elevating a jazz staple into one of the largest venues in the city. Here, Porter will be supported by the String Queens, D.C.’s own inimitable trio that takes its genre-bending performances to clubs across the world.


Friday, Sep. 1 and Saturday, Sep. 2, 9:30 p.m.
Union Stage [tickets: night 1, night 2]
[view on calendar] 

In his native Philadelphia, Orrin Evans was known as a monster pianist long before he took that reputation worldwide in the early 2000s. He leads a variety of groups, including the Captain Black Big Band, where you could be as likely to hear cascading, symphonic jazz as you are to hear distinctively arranged David Bowie covers. 

As the artist-in-residence for the DC JazzFest, at Union Stage he hosts a session featuring all-star members of his Imani Records label, including bassist Jonathan Michel, drummer Tina Raymond and keyboardist Luke Carlos O’Reilly. According to the festival website, musicians are also welcome to bring their instruments and join in on the jam session. 


Saturday, Sep. 2, 4:30 p.m.
District Pier [sold out]
[view on calendar] 

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is one of the most gifted and versatile drummers of her generation. She graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 1983, when she was just 18 years old, then became the house drummer for The Arsenio Hall Show and Sinbad’s VIBE. She went on to work extensively with legends like Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter (even subbing for Brian Blade in Shorter’s quartet on occasion), and became the first female bandleader to win the Grammy for best jazz instrumental album.

Listen to her recordings from over the years — and her live projects — and you’ll hear an artist with a limitless ear for sound and potential. She’s ranged from electric-funk to lyrical and lush music more rooted in the straight-ahead tradition. 

Her “New Standards” project seeks to address the conspicuous absence of female composers from the standard jazz repertoire. The project’s first album, New Standards Vol. 1, won Carrington her fourth Grammy. Here, she and her group play highlights from that repertoire.


Saturday, Sep. 2, 6:30 p.m.
District Pier [sold out]
[view on calendar] 

Charles Lloyd is an eminent saxophonist who pioneered the infusion of funk and rock influences into jazz while always remaining true to the quicksilver delicacy of his instrumental approach. With his Kindred Spirits project, Lloyd features an intergenerational cast of musicians who all complement his gravitas in their own ways: Reuben Rogers on bass, Julian Lage on guitar, Gerald Clayton on piano and Eric Harland on drums.


Sunday, Sep. 3, 2:00 p.m.
Transit Pier [sold out]
[view on calendar] 

Saxophonist Brent Birckhead is an archetypal product of the D.C. jazz scene. He’s a strong straight-ahead player, but also well-versed in go-go, R&B and the other popular sounds of the city. Armed with multiople music degrees from Howard University and years of experience playing with local acts like Akua Alrich and the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra – on top of touring with the likes of Lauryn Hill and DNCE – Birckhead has grown into a powerful bandleader.


Sunday, Sep. 3, 4:05 p.m.
District Pier [sold out]
[view on calendar] 

Bassist Dave Holland was one of the defining players on his instrument in the fusion and creative-music revolutions of the 1970s. He surged to international acclaim as a member of Miles Davis’ electric bands from the late 1960s to the early ‘70s, playing on the iconic recordings In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew before becoming a fixture of ECM Records and featuring on recordings by innovators like Anthony Braxton and evolving veterans like Joe Henderson and Chick Corea. He will perform in a trio with guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Eric Harland.


Sunday, Sep. 3, 6:45 p.m.
Transit Pier [sold out]
[view on calendar] 

Saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. is one of the more underrated influences on contemporary jazz. A “big chief” of two New Orleans Black Indian masking groups (sometimes known as Mardi Gras Indians — a term Harrison rejects), he cut his teeth in the “finishing school” of bop known as Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. During the mid-’80s, he sought to unify strands of modern jazz with the grooves of hip-hop and the Black Indian rhythms of New Orleans, in a kind of music he called “nouveau swing.” In recent decades, Harrison has served as a mentor to some of the leading musicians of the new generation: visionary bassist Esparanza Spaldng, jazz-rock star Trombone Shorty, Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste and the genre-bending musician Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah (formerly Christian Scott), who is also Harrison’s nephew.



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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