Photos | Battle of the Saxes ends in a draw at December’s D.C. Jazz Loft

Guitarist Michelle Webb performs at the D.C. Jazz Loft on Dec. 11. Carlyle V. Smith/CapitalBop

by Giovanni Russonello
Editorial board

It was one of the coldest nights of the month, the sort of evening that shakes you by the scruff of your scarf and reminds you that winter just can’t be denied. But a stalwart showing of D.C. Jazz Loft faithful came anyway, and the sounds they heard sent a warm thrill throughout Red Door. First there was Michelle Webb, whose ambient solo guitar set coated the room in an electric gauze, one possessed of the same expansive frequency as an interstellar radio transmitter. Next came the Jolley Brothers, who – as jazz loft die-hards already knew – can swing and rock and groove the pants off of everything from Chick Corea’s classic “Humpty Dumpty” to their own hot-stepping “Two-Fold.” Drummer Nate and pianist Noble Jolley locked into a natural synchronicity as usual, while preeminent bassist Eric Wheeler — just back from a daytime gig alongside greats Tim Warfield and Cyrus Chestnut — laid a flexible foundation.

Finally, the loft concluded with a fiery Battle of the Saxes featuring the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra’s front line: Brent Birckhead, Sarah Hughes, Elijah Jamal Balbed, Charles Phaneuf and Brad Linde. Whether swinging the blues, giving a mid-tempo rendition of “In a Mellow Tone” or playing a laid-back “Stella By Starlight,” the saxophonists all performed at the top of their game, cutting each other one moment and offering amicable background harmonies the next. Everyone was smiling at the end, pride and saxes intact, so the battle was ruled a draw.

Below is a collection of shots by CapitalBop’s staff photographer, Carlyle V. Smith. If you like what you see, don’t forget that Red Door closes at the end of January, and there will be only a couple more opportunities to catch the action at the loft before it’s forced to relocate. See you in the new year!

Find more of Carlyle’s work at



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