Jazz in DC and Baltimore

by Michael J. West

Tuesday, December 10

It’s a peculiarity of jazz that when you’ve got a couple of teenagers on the bandstand who can really play, it’s not (in most cases) a novelty. It’s a positive augur of jazz to come, and a great reason for someone—all of us, actually—to go and check them out. I’m not speaking of very young teenagers, mind you, but those with at least a little bit of maturity under their belts. Like Ebban and Ephraim Dorsey, a sister and brother (15 and 16 years old, respectively) saxophone duo who absolutely play their asses off. They’ve got terrific bebop chops, both with healthy blues feeling, and they sound fantastic together, Ebban’s alto melding beautifully with Ephraim’s tenor. These are names you’re going to keep hearing for a long time to come, and even now they are worthy of association with an already totemic name like Keystone Korner. They perform there at 7:30 p.m., 1350 Lancaster Street. $10

Wednesday, December 11

Terry Marshall swings like hell. It’s actually hard to find any way to describe him that doesn’t start there. He has led trios, quartets, and quintets, and yet he’s also a strong enough solo performer that he can stir up a mighty groove with no help at all. Note that word, “groove,” because he doesn’t just swing. Marshall’s got the Latin and bossa syncopation down, and no shortage of soul and funk, either. (There’s a good bit of Stevie Wonder and some original funk-soul in his repertoire as well.) Nor is it all about rhythm; he plays with a garrulous melodic flourish, not unlike Erroll Garner in his prime, and pretty chords that he applies a tender, thoughtful touch to. Marshall is a frequent performer at the Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival, so if you prefer, I suppose you can wait it out until February and hope he’s on the Rockville stage again. But why the hell would you do that? He performs at 6 p.m. at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, 2813 Twelfth Street NE. $10

Friday, December 13

Mary Lou Williams died in 1981, and in the time since then she has been honored. But it’s not enough. Williams was one of the most important pianists, composers, and arrangers in jazz, and not just in one era—from the 1920s through the ‘70s, from early jazz through the avant-garde and even into fusion, she was a major figure. She belongs on the same burnished dais with the Duke Ellingtons of the jazz world, and her compositions and recordings all belong in the canon. Janelle Gill is as aware of this, if not more, as anyone. She is a brilliant D.C. based pianist, one who commands the respect of peers and elders alike, and yet to this writer’s eyes, it is also not enough. And yes, it’s largely because Gill is a woman, as it was for Williams. This concert (which also features saxophonist Marshall Keys, trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse, bassist Herman Burney, and drummer Kelton Norris) is a tribute to the deceased titan, but it doubles as one for Gill. It begins at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I Street SW. $5

Saturday, December 14

Any list of great, important, but underappreciated jazz musicians that does not include Gary Thomas is a list that is wrong. Full stop. Apprenticing with drummer Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition (one of the great 1980s incubators of new ideas in jazz), native Baltimorean Thomas was one of the creators of the concept known as M-Base. (It’s often attributed solely to Steve Coleman these days, but M-Base was in fact a collective development in the ‘80s.) Those jagged rhythms and rewritten harmonic logics are still thoroughly present in his music, from the works he created in the late ‘80s through to At Risk, his (tragically unreleased) 2016 big band album. Thomas was for years director of the jazz program at Peabody Conservatory, which means he’s mentored countless jazz musicians—some of whom now perform with him, like bassist Blake Meister and drummer Darrell Green, both extraordinary players. Add in Allyn Johnson, arguably the finest pianist in the whole DMV, and there’s really no way around it being a stunning display of talent. The Gary Thomas Quartet performs at 8 p.m. at An Die Musik, 409 North Charles Street. $10-$25

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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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