Jazz in the District this Week
by Michael J. West
Tuesday, May 7
D.C. tenor saxophonist Tedd Baker works with a number of different trio lineups, and he sounds great in all of them. Even so, there’s something magical in the configuration known as the TKQ Trio—and it takes about 30 seconds of their performing together to see why. Baker, bassist Kris Funn, and drummer Quincy Phillips add up to D.C. jazz’s equivalent of Cream: the mother of power trios. Each one of these men is a dominant musical personality, the kind of muscle player that would cause any of them to be regarded as the secret weapon in any other band. What you don’t get in this assemblage is the clash of titanic egos that tend to come with other such power trios. Each of these musicians has tremendous respect for each other; each also knows his role, but makes room in what they’re doing for the others to play their roles and give their input. That, my friends, is the way it’s supposed to work. I guess you could call them an exemplary jazz band. The TKQ Trio begins at 7:30 p.m. at JoJo’s, 1518 U Street NW. Free.
Wednesday, May 8
Benny Golson turned 90 this year, and if he’s playing anything like he was when he was 85 then his performance is can’t-miss. Golson was one of the behind-the-scenes architects of hard bop, the rootsy, bluesy iteration of bebop that dominated the 1950s. He is a splendid tenor saxophonist with a heavily melodic, gospel-inspired tilt. A good Golson performance is as much about the material, however. He is one of perhaps three greatest living composers, the author of such enduring jazz standards as “Whisper Not,” “I Remember Clifford,” “Stable Mates,” “Blues March,” and the unforgettable “Killer Joe.” But there’s still more to one of his evenings on the bandstand: What he says. Yes, in addition to being a great saxophonist and great composer, Golson is one of jazz’s great raconteurs. In between songs he’ll tell hilarious, often insightful stories about the songs he writes and plays, and about other musicians who played them. (Among others, Golson cut his musical teeth in Philadelphia alongside a young friend named John Coltrane). If you want to accomplish something to rival all that, look back over this discussion and come up with a reason not to go see him. Benny Golson performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $35.
Thursday, May 9
In March, D.C. trombonist Shannon Gunn led a quartet that opened the show for Carla Bley and her trio. It’s not easy to hold one’s own in the presence of royalty like Bley (another one of the aforementioned three greatest living composers). But Gunn, already one of the most visible and exciting performers on the scene, had a secret weapon. Alto saxophonist Rachel Winder, a Baltimorean whom this writer had never heard before that night, stepped up with a series of improvisations that were completely fresh and original. She was all but boiling over with creative energy and ideas. I couldn’t wait to find a reason to hear her play again. Well…here’s one. Gunn is apparently experimenting with quartet configurations these days (in addition to her ongoing work with the Firebird Organ Trio and the Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes big band), and Winder appears to be her go-to frontline partner. They’re appearing together at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U Street NW. $10.
Friday, May 10
It will be a long time yet before the jazz world recovers from the shock of the passing of Geri Allen in 2017, and perhaps longer still before that jazz world grasps the vast debt it owes to that piano genius. She offered wholly new and original ways of approaching harmony and phrasing that are now most apparent in some of the genre’s most forward-thinking practitioners: think Craig Taborn, Vijay Iyer, and, of course, Jason Moran. Moran is among Allen’s most outspoken apostles—and, given that Allen was one of the most outspoken apostle of jazz giant Mary Lou Williams, it was probably as inevitable as it is appropriate that Moran should fold a tribute to Allen into a tribute to Williams. The first of the two-night Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center is entirely given over to Feed the Fire, the salute to Allen that includes Moran and her friend and fellow traveler, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. Also on hand will be bass great and NEA Jazz Master Dave Holland, a DJ, and a tap dancer. It’s not necessarily something you might have seen or heard out of Allen, but it’s surely in keeping with her visionary spirit. Feed the Fire: A Tribute to Geri Allen begins at 7 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, 2700 F Street NW. $45.
Michael J. West
Michael J. West is a freelance writer, editor, and jazz journalist who has been covering the Washington, D.C. jazz scene since 2009. He spends most days either hunkered down in the clubs or in his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.
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