District Jazz This Week – Spoiled for Choice

by Michael J. West

Wednesday, May 29
If you’re anything like me, you hear the words “French gypsy-jazz guitarist Stephane Wrembel,” your first thought is of Stéphane Grappelli, who was a member of the original French gypsy-jazz ensemble: The Quintette of the Hot Club of France. Well, if you’re anything like me, you’re a dummy, too, because Grappelli didn’t play guitar. That was Django Reinhardt. Stephane Wrembel, however, plays gypsy-jazz guitar in the Reinhardt mode—if you saw the Woody Allen films Vicky Cristina Barcelona or Midnight in Paris, and heard on the soundtrack that guitarist with the distinctly old-world European flavor? That was Wrembel. Inside that flavor, though, is a flawless time feel and beautiful, crystalline articulation—even on those twisty tendrils, you can make out each and every note. On a solo performance it’s a wonderful thing; in a performance with his quartet (second guitarist Thor Jensen, bassist Ari Folman Cohen, drummer Nick Anderson) it’s even more beguiling, with the complex harmonies and pronounced rhythms. Try it; you’ll like it. Stephane Wrembel performs at 8 p.m. at City Winery, 1350 Okie Street NE. $20-$28.

Friday, May 31
The great drummer Art Blakey was also the great teacher Art Blakey. The man dedicated his life to leading bands (the Jazz Messengers) that he staffed with young musicians that would receive tutelage from him, then go on to spearhead new generations of jazz greats. The list is vast, running from Jackie McLean to Ralph Peterson. That last is a special case: One of only two drummers whom Blakey took on as protégés. Peterson is one of the many who has paid their debt to him forward, becoming a respected educator alongside his career as a spectacular drummer. This time, though, Peterson pays direct tribute to Blakey, who would have been 100 years old in October. He leads an ensemble called the Messenger Legacy, stocked with veteran Jazz Messengers from several eras: saxophonists Bill Pierce (tenor) and Bobby Watson (alto), trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Geoffrey Keezer, and bassist Essiet Essiet. All of them are great, and together they are fire. Ralph Peterson & The Messenger Legacy perform at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, 2700 F Street NW. $30-$40.

Saturday, June 1
Portland, Oregon-based pianist and composer Darrell Grant wrote Step by Step: The Ruby Bridges Suite in 2012—a dramatic, choral, large-scale piece of jazz in honor of the brave little girl who desegregated New Orleans public schools in 1960. What better venue for a piece like this to be performed than D.C.’s own National Museum of African American History and Culture? In accordance with its heavy gospel influence, this performance features the choir from All Souls Unitarian Church alongside a group drawn from Howard University’s a cappella jazz ensemble Afro-Blue, as well as a stellar group of instrumentalists that includes the great drummer Brian Blade. Joining Blade are saxophonist Rahsaan Barber, guitarist Lindsey Beth Miller, cellist Cremaine Booker, bassist Clark Sommers, and composer Grant himself on the piano. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful piece that evokes not just Bridges but the entirety of the Civil Rights movement—well worth your time and attention. Step by Step: The Ruby Bridges Suite will be performed at 1 and 4 p.m. at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, 1400 Constitution Avenue NW. Free (but preregistration is required at nmaahc.si.edu).
In jazz circles, Carlos Henriquez is not an easy fellow to miss. He’s the longtime bassist for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, as well as for JLCO leader Wynton Marsalis’s own quintet. If his instrumental choice makes him a somewhat unlikely candidate to lead a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, his high placement within New York’s monument to straight-a-head bebop mitigates that. The 40-year-old bassist last year recorded and released Dizzy Con Clave, an octet treatment of nine Gillespie staples that turns up the amperage on Afro-Cuban rhythms, voicings and other styles. (Lest we forget, Gillespie was one of the founding fathers of Afro-Cuban jazz in the late 1940s.) What, you thought nobody could squeeze more latin flavor into “Manteca”? Henriquez and his ensemble, now expanded to a nonet, welcome the opportunity to prove you wrong. You’d be smart, jazz fan or jazz-curious reader, to welcome it too. The Carlos Henriquez Nonet performs at 8 p.m. at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, 600 I Street NW. $35.

Sunday, June 2
Lena Seikaly is one of our favorite jazz vocalists. She engages in flawless precision and subtle manipulation of time—she lands her phrasing just behind the beat on ballads, just ahead of it on uptempo tunes, dead center of the beat on mid tempo tunes (though quite ready to throw change-ups into any of the above, as the song demands it). These are the underpinnings of the most obvious trait in her singing, that full-bodied, slightly husky voice that sounds out of place with her relative youth. Seikaly is a regular at many different venues in town, but one of the best and most consistent is at The Alex: a small bar and restaurant in the basement of the Graham Georgetown Hotel. Each Sunday night, pianist Chris Grasso (D.C.’s go-to piano accompanist for singers) hosts a Jazz Night series that features a different vocalist. It’s Seikaly’s turn, giving her the good fortune of Grasso’s and bassist Michael Bowie’s backup. (The good fortune is mutual.) They begin at 6 p.m. at The Alex, 1075 Thomas Jefferson Street NW. Free (but with a $20 minimum).

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on google

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.

More to explore


CatchyTwentyTwo Brings You the “Serenity”

A singer, song writer, and producer from Broward County, Florida. CatchTwentyTwo breaks away from the accustomed routine of music of today’s times, and instead chooses to focus on what matters most, the expression of emotion in its authentic form. Often soft-spoken and invariably sullen in his vocal style, the pop artist delves into deeper themes of romance, confusion, and anger. We interviewed him too!

Read More »

Radio B Reinforces Why Blackness is Priceless.

“Never sell my soul just to earn a wage”, wise words spoken by AGM boss, RVA Rap Elite creator, and local RVA rapper Radio B in his most recent single “Blackness is Better than Gold.” The video kicks off stating that the price of melanin($350) is worth 6.54 times more than the price of gold($54.23), in hopes for the Black Community to come to the realization their actual self worth is invaluable and priceless. Radio B’s timing couldn’t have been better with the protests against police brutality and systemic racism still going strong and especially because he is from Richmond where the removal of Confederate Statues is on going. It will be a busy week for Radio B as the video dropped on today and he later will be going head to head against another RVA favorite and fellow AGM rapper Michael Millions in the Radio B hosted Aux Wars tournament “The War of the Chords”. His new album “All Art A’int Pretty” drops Friday and he also has something special in store for his fans on Saturday morning. Be sure to add this song to your protest/revolution playlist and peep the King Z directed video. fans on Saturday morning. Be sure to add this song to your protest playlist, check out the Killthedreamer.com for a listen to the album early and merch, and peep the King Z directed video.

Read More »

STRUAN Drops New Video, “Over You”

Struan is an artist from Arlington, who also went to UVA. When asking him about his music, he says, “My music is for late night drives when all you can think about is her, the smell of her hair on a summer evening, nostalgia for just 5 minutes ago, rooftops, and insomnia at 3 AM on your friend’s couch.” His music is very calming, yet also motivating at the same time. It makes the listener feel as if all of their problems are gone for a moment, and that anything is possible.

His newest video, “Over You” dropped on June 12th. It was on Spotify “Fresh Finds” and “Fresh Finds: Pop” and has been really well received thus far. The video was shot in both Austin, and Nashville. The song is about a break up, and the phase of running away from all the fallouts and friends lost through the break up. This song makes you think of past loves, and is a good song to get you “in your feels.” Check out the video below.

Read More »