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DC Jazz Festival!

by Michael J. West

Look, kids, who are we fooling? The DC Jazz Festival begins on Friday, so the weekend’s where the action is.

Friday, June 7
Anthony Nelson, Jr. is what most jazz musicians are: a journeyman. The New Jersey native (and current resident) plays seemingly every reed instrument on planet Earth, which gives him no shortage of opportunities, and he does his thing wherever and whenever the opportunity may present itself. He does it well, too—this writer’s favorite of his vehicles is the tenor, on which Nelson wields a deep, swaggering sound not far removed from Ben Webster’s. Nelson is also an alumnus of UDC’s jazz studies program, and a protégé of the late great Calvin Jones. It gives him a connection here, and as such it’s become something of a tradition that Nelson be a part of the opening weekend of the DC Jazz Festival. Whether you like tenor, alto, soprano sax, or flute, he’ll have you covered, and he’ll play a set (or four, as the case may be) of swinging straightahead jazz that’ll get you primed for the festivities to come. Anthony Nelson Jr. performs at 9 and 11 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U Street NW. $15.

Saturday, June 8
One component of the D.C. Jazz Festival is actually a smaller festival in its own right—a fest within a fest. Each year, coincident with the DCJF, promoter Vernard Gray organizes the East River Jazz Fest. It has a very specific purpose in mind, one that’s not so much musical. Gray programs events in Wards 7 and 8 as a means of bringing people across the Anacostia River and perhaps discover that it’s a lovely, welcoming part of the city that’s deserving of your attention and perhaps your patronage. How better to express that idea than by programming music at the most iconic site east of the river? Yup, it’s jazz at the Big Chair, and the District’s favorite piece of furniture will play host to a marathon of music on Saturday afternoon. The headliner, if it be fair to characterize them that way, is Elijah Jamal Balbed’s Jo-Go Project, that fusion of jazz and go-go featuring members of the Chuck Brown Band and top regional jazz musicians. But there are so many more to come: pianist Bill Washburn, exploratory bassist Jeron White, ace drummer Angeliqua Bethea…and it won’t cost you a dime. The East River Jazzfest’s kickoff begins at 1 p.m. at the Big Chair, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and V Street SE. Free.
Seems that Saturday is a good day to have a jazz marathon. In the evening, CapitalBop—those ever-busy, ever-daring, ever-imaginative advocates of jazz in the District of Columbia—is presenting all six of its 2019 festival billings in one spectacular event that they are calling “Present::Futures.” It’s a packed slate of forward-thinking musicians from around the country. Baltimore’s adventurous Organix Trio begins the night, followed by Chicago’s experimental singer and multi-instrumentalist Angel Bat Dawid and then D.C. native (but now New York-based) alto saxophonist Brent Birckhead. After that come guitarist Miles Okazaki, performing solo renditions of the compositions of Thelonious Monk; California drummer Justin Brown and his Nyeusi ensemble; and finally, the genre-defying vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow, who from any given aspect might be funk, hip-hop, neo-soul, jazz, singer-songwriter, or avant-garde (and in truth, she’s all of the at once). It’s an eclectic slate, a quirky one, and an ambitious-as-hell one, any way you slice it. CapitalBop’s Present::Futures begins at 6:30 p.m. at The Sandlot, 1800 Half Street SW. $20-$150.

Sunday, June 9
It’s not actually connected to the festival, but it’s a timely and unusual happening: the newest installment of the Jazz in the Basement series downtown. Yes, it’s a monthly happening—the unusual part is the fact that it features a quintet led by French horn. I speak of Abe Memet, a young man whose choice of a rare jazz instrument would probably make him a draw on the scene anyway. But he’s also so damn good, so imaginative and deft on the horn (one that frankly doesn’t lend itself to deftness)! What’s more, you’d be hard pressed to find a more exciting bunch of accompanists for Memet: alto saxophonist Herb Scott, pianist Justin Taylor, bassist Steve Arnold, and drummer Julian Berkowitz. They’ll be playing the music of Julius Watkins (the king of bebop French horn, such as it was and is), but also a goodly amount of Memet’s originals. Jazz in the Basement begins at 2 p.m. at the Goethe-Institut Washington, 1990 K Street NW. Free.

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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