It’s been said by more than a few people that Elijah Jamal Balbed is the hardest-working young saxophonist in D.C. Balbed is a mainstay of the D.C. scene, a devoted musician with the dedication and the vision to match his fearsome chops. Boasting a wide vocabulary and a steady, grounded tone on the tenor saxophone, this young lion has a lot to say, and we’re excited to hear him bring his musical message to our second-ever Spotlight Residency on Sep. 28-30.
Balbed’s barely decade-long career has included a two-year stint in the band of the legendary Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go, as well as work alongside acts such as Nicholas Payton, Lalah Hathaway and Dr. John. But audiences in D.C. know him as a bandleader and composer who’s got his own powerful concept. That much is clear on his two albums, Lessons from the Streets (2015) and Checking In (2012).
Spotlight is CapitalBop’s newest concert series, featuring a different DMV-based artist-in-residence each month. The idea is to provide D.C.’s finest bandleaders with a receptive space where they can experiment with new ideas, and connect directly with listeners. The centerpiece of the residency is a series of back-to-back concerts at a pop-up jazz club at Local 16, in the heart of U Street. It also includes a free, open workshop-performance at Sitar Arts Center, aimed at young people and their families.
Elijah Jamal Balbed may still be in his 20s, but as a lifelong resident of the District area — and by now a veteran of its fertile jazz scene — he taps directly into the forward-looking but tradition-based sensibilities that are the hallmark of the “D.C. sound.” Balbed brings his experiences growing up in D.C. to bear in his music, and draws on his history with the Chuck Brown Band and the JoGo Project — a jazz-meets-go-go ensemble he leads — to give his straight-ahead jazz a personal tinge. It might swing or it might groove, but rhythm is a requirement when Balbed is leading a band.
He will perform on Saturday and Sunday, Sep. 29-30, at Local 16, where we’ll be turning a cozy room on the restaurant’s second floor into a jazz club. Eat dinner before the show on either night, ordering from Local 16’s excellent Afghan kitchen, and you’ll get a $5 discount on any Spotlight ticket you buy at the door.
There will be sets at 7:30 and 9 p.m. on Saturday, and at 6 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is just $15 in advance, or $20 at the door. One ticket is good for both of the evening’s sets.
Balbed’s workshop and performance at Sitar will take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sep. 28. The free event begins with a full set of music for students and their families, and continues with a hands-on workshop aimed at the student musicians in the room. The workshop portion will be geared towards grades 5-10, but all are welcome to attend.