What to see at this week’s 12th annual Washington Women in Jazz Festival

The Washington Women in Jazz Festival was one of the first major cancellations to hit the D.C. jazz scene in March 2020, starting what became a tidal wave of silence across the District and the country. Last year, the WWJF went all-virtual, helping to prove that large-scale, grassroots music events could pull off the transition to digital presentation — embracing the pandemic’s emphasis on distance to expand their fanbase beyond the DMV’s borders.

This week, the WWJF is back live and in-person for its 12th year, as our region’s Covid numbers fall and in-person music has begun roaring back to life. 

Pianist Amy K. Bormet, the festival’s founder and longstanding organizer, told CapitalBop in an interview that this year’s programming was themed around ideas of reemergence. “There is no virtual component of this festival,” she said. “That’s on purpose. I want people to come out – I don’t want them to sit at home in their pajamas. I want them to come out and feel the vibe, and I want to feel their vibe, and I want this community back together.”

This year’s festival, which officially begins Wednesday and runs through April 1, will showcase 8 unique approaches to this music, and will feature seasoned festival performers alongside musicians who have never yet performed in DC, let alone the WWJF. Concerts will take place throughout the DMV, with two shows in Maryland, two in Virginia, and four in DC proper. 

Many of the performances are free;  the rest range from $10-30. Here are CapitalBop’s highlights of the festival; the full schedule can be found at the festival’s website.

Mr. Henry’s Capitol Hill Jazz Jam with Washington Women in Jazz

Mr. Henry’s Restaurant, 601 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Wednesday, March 23, 8-11pm, $5 cover with $12 food/drink minimum
[view on CB calendar]

The festival will start with a bang when longstanding WWJF performers Eliza Salem and Karine Chapdelaine take the stage alongside Bormet and Mr. Henry’s longtime jam session host, saxophonist Herb Scott, for a takeover of Capitol Hill’s beloved Wednesday-night jazz jam. “People are really excited to have this space back,” Bormet says. The Wednesday night session “means a lot to me. And it means a lot to the community to have this celebration of women musicians in the city.” Jam sessions are the lifeblood of any jazz scene, and it is only fitting that the festival’s return to in-person events will start with one of the best in town.

2nd Annual Jazz Girls Day in DC

NOVA Alexandria Campus, AFA Building (Room 118), 5000 Dawes Ave, Alexandria, VA
Saturday, March 26, 10am-5pm, $20 registration (lunch included)
[view on CB calendar]

In 2019, Bormet and Shannon Gunn, one of the region’s preeminent trombonists, teamed up to create Jazz Girls Day in DC, challenging what they saw as a leading cause of the gross underrepresentation of women and girls in jazz. As Gunn explained to Open Sky Jazz ahead of the 2019 inaugural, “Middle school jazz bands typically have 50 percent women, then in high school it drops to 14 percent women, and then at the college level there are only 9 percent women in the school big band.” This year, the event is back in its in-person glory after a two-year hiatus, and will feature a full day of one-on-one lessons, lectures and a jam session for girls and women ranging from middle-school age to early college. This integral part of the festival incorporates the jazz world’s youngest voices, and will empower girls and young women to enter, and thrive within, it.

Patricia López with the Amy K Bormet Trio

Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I St. NW
Saturday, March 26, 7pm, $30 tickets
[view on CB calendar]

CB’s listings editor, Jackson Sinnenberg, already picked this as one of our must-see March concerts, and for good reason. Patricia López — whose album Wanderlust netted her Uruguay’s national music prize for best 2020 jazz album — co-hosted last year’s virtual festival, and since then she’s developed a creative bond with Bormet, despite the two never having met in person. Thanks to a Uruguayan grant sponsorship program, that meeting will happen this weekend, and will result in what is sure to be a magical evening, with López and Bormet’s group rounded out by the excellent Amy Shook on bass and Angel Bethea on drums.

Leigh Pilzer’s Seven Pointed Star

Montpelier Arts Center, 9652 Muirkirk Road Laurel, MD
Friday, April 1, 8-10pm, $25 tickets
[view on CB calendar]

On the final evening of the festival, this concert is the de facto main event. Dr. Leigh Pilzer, who’s known way beyond D.C. as an authority on the  baritone saxophone, will present a blockbuster group combining festival mainstays and newcomers: Bormet on piano, DIVA Jazz Orchestra founder Sherrie Miracle on drums, Amy Shook on bass, Jen Krupa on trombone, Ally Albrecht on trumpet and Mercedes Beckman on alto saxophone. That the concert should end with a group featuring both Pilzer and Bormet is fitting: The two met when Bormet approached Pilzer to play as part of the inaugural WWJF in 2011.

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About Abram Mamet

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Abram Mamet is a musician and writer living in Washington, DC. Before the pandemic, you could hear him on the French horn leading a quartet at The Marx Cafe’s Tuesday night jam session.

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