The 2016 DC Jazz Festival: An expert guide to making the most

Starting today, the DC Jazz Festival is back for its twelfth annual celebration of the art form we like to call jazz. After last year’s short-yet-jam-packed six-day festival, this year’s schedule stretches out over 10 days of whopping music, spread across the city’s four quadrants.

In the past year, we’ve seen jazz musicians in D.C. and beyond bending the boundaries between jazz and popular music — artists like Thundercat, Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar. At the DC JazzFest, headlining acts like Igmar Thomas & The Revive Big Band’s “Journey Through the History of Black Culture” (performing at the festival’s blowout weekend of outdoor performances at Yards Park) the Bill Cole and Matt Shipp Trios, Kamasi Washington, and the Marquis Hill Blacktet (on CapitalBop’s stage) promise to highlight the more malleable side of jazz.

But the festival is also primetime for homegrown jazz, and we’ll see performances from plenty of area heavy-hitters, like Shannon Gunn, Mark Meadows, Reginald Cyntje and Elijah Jamal Balbed.

At CapitalBop’s DC Jazz Loft Series, stationed around the corner from the Yards Park main stage, we will pay tribute to the evolving legacy large (and kinda-large) ensembles in jazz. You can find out more about our series at

Below, you’ll find our editorial picks for the best shows not presented by us, throughout the festival. If you don’t want to miss anything, or you’re just a choose-your-own-adventure type, navigate straight to, where we have a close-to-comprehensive listing of all the shows going on at the DC JazzFest, each with their own editorial preview (you can even sort the calendar so that it’s only showing DCJF shows).

With no further ado, happy browsing—make sure you get out and hear some of the many cutting-edge performers playing on stages across the District in the next nine days.

Friday, June 10

Regina Carter Quartet / Ben Williams & Sound Effect

At the Hamilton

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The fearlessly inventive violinist and MacArthur Fellow Regina Carter leads a quartet at the opening of the DC Jazz Fest’s programming at the Hamilton.

Opening for Regina Carter is Ben Williams & Sound Effect. Bassist Ben Williams grew up in D.C. and attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, then vaulted into the spotlight in 2009 after winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Don’t just go to hear Williams’ acoustic bass playing—warm, earthy and precise—or to experience his buoyant compositions. His band Sound Effect is worth the price of admission on its own: It features saxophonist Marcus Strickland, guitarist Matt Stevens, keyboardist Christian Sands and drummer John Davis.

Saturday, June 11

Brad Linde’s Team Players: All-American CD Release Performance

At the Atlas Performing Arts Center

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The irrepressible D.C.-based saxophonist and educator Brad Linde is joined by his group Team Players to celebrate the release of their second album, All-American. The project draws influences from the spectrum of the American experience, broadly but jazzily defined, featuring tunes inspired by everything from baseball to Albert Ayler.

Featuring Linde on alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet & Hammond organ; Billy Wolfe on tenor saxophone & clarinet; Aaron Quinn on guitar & effects; and Deric Dickens on drums and cymbals & percussion.

Monday, June 13

DC Jazz Festival Salutes Howard University Jazz, feat. Benny Golson

At The Kennedy Center

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Howard University has one of the most prominent music programs in the DMV — and the entire United States. Even today, some of jazz’s most gifted educators and improvisers are on staff as professors, such as Charlie Young III and Cyrus Chestnut.

For the Kennedy Center’s annual DC Jazz Festival concert, the palatial arts center is partnering with the DCJF to salute the long history of Howard’s jazz program, with a focus on program directors Fred Irby and Dr. Art Dawkins. A truly all-star cast of musicians will be part of the concert: NEA Jazz Master and legendary tenor saxophonist/composer Benny Golson will join Chestnut, a capella group Afro Blue, Carroll Dashiell, Reginald Cyntje, Savannah Harris, gospel bandleader Richard Smallwood and others.

Tuesday, June 14

Steve Coleman & Five Elements

At Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

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The alto saxophonist and conceptualist Steve Coleman has been one of the most important musicians in jazz over the past 30-plus years, specifically because he doesn’t look at himself as a jazz musician. And he thought that way before it was in vogue. Rather, he works to inhabit some bit of the common ground between spirituality, mass culture, iconoclasm and art. With a stabbing saxophone attack that knows how to wax momentarily soothing, Coleman has mentored musicians from across the spectrum of American music. He appears here with his Five Elements project, featuring Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Anthony Tidd on bass, and Sean Rickman on drums.

Wednesday, June 15

JAZZALIVE AT UDC: Charlie Young with Allyn Johnson and the UDC Jazztet

At the University of the District of Columbia

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Two of D.C.’s greatest jazz educators pair up here for a night of excellence. Alto saxophonist, Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra leader, Ellington Orchestra member, and Howard University professor Charlie Young joins the UDC jazz studies director and pianist Allyn Johnson, alongside the UDC Jazztet, to present a night of music that just might teach you a thing or two.

Friday, June 17

Maceo Parker

At the Hamilton

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If you hear James Brown on record hollering for someone to “blow your horn!” the next thing you’re going to experience is Maceo Parker. Brown’s right-hand sax man had an irreducible funkiness to his playing—swagger and pep were his rare earth metals. And Parker shines as a leader too: If you don’t have 1970?s Doing Their Own Thing, by Maceo and All the King’s Men, get it now. (His solo records in the years since have ranged from funk to jazz to blues.) Then go see Parker perform twice at the Hamilton as part of the DC Jazz Festival. Two separate shows at 7:30 and 10 p.m.

Sunday, June 19

Igmar Thomas & the Revive Big Band with Talib Kweli, Bilal, Kamasi Washington & Ravi Coltrane, Fred Foss’ Tribute to NEA Jazz Master Jackie McLean, E.J. Strickland & Transient Beings

At Yards Park

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<p”>The Jazz at The Yards series of this year’s DC Jazz Festival ends with an almighty blowout featuring some of the most gifted cats of our time. The daylong program, entitled “A Journey Through The Legacy Of Black Culture,” is anchored by Igmar Thomas & The Revive Big Band, which serves as the house band. Joining them are tenor saxophonists Kamasi Washington and Ravi Coltrane, emcee Talib Kweli, vocalist Bilal and others. The group will mix blues, jazz, hip-hop, soul, neo-soul and something close to the entire heritage of black music and art.

Leading up to the main event are two other performances by masters of the improvisational form: The warm and sonorous reeds player Fred Foss is masterful on both alto and tenor saxophones, as well as flute. A longtime D.C. resident, he’s mentored a range of the District’s major talent, from the internationally renowned bassist Ben Williams to the rising saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed. Here he pays tribute to his one-time mentor, the late alto saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master Jackie McLean.

Led by drummer E.J. Strickland, Transient Beings function a bit like Robert Glasper’s Experiment. The group folds elements of soul, R&B, and hip-hop into a jazz base.

Note: Most of these listings were written by Jackson Sinnenberg, and some by Giovanni Russonello.



Jackson Sinnenberg

About Jackson Sinnenberg

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Jackson Sinnenberg is an Associate Producer for SiriusXM and a freelance writer. His work has appeared in the JazzTimes. NPR Music,, the Washington City Paper and On Tap Magazine and the blog of Smithsonian Folkways Records. He previously covered 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. Read him at Follow him at @sinnenbergmusic.

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