Jazz In DC and Baltimore

by Michael J. West

Tuesday, December 24

Another of the many holiday traditions in the DMV comes at Blues Alley on Christmas Eve. Guitarist Rodney Richardson and Joe Herrera, who once upon a time led one of the killin’-est small bands on the local jazz circuit, bring it roaring back every year at the celebrated Georgetown club with “The Jam Before Christmas.” As the name implies, though, it’s not necessarily a gig for the Herrera-Richardson band—it’s a jam session that’s open to all comers with instruments. In other words, it’s as much (if not more) an event for the musicians, a place where they can come to blow off some of that holiday stress and the restraints of the Christmastime private events into which they tend to be pressed into service around this time of year. But why should their release not be a boon to the rest of us? Get your Yuletide Ya-Yas out. The Jam Before Christmas begins at 7 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $22

Thursday, December 26

Are you sick of Christmas? By December 26, you’re more or less supposed to be. Not your new toys, per se, but the external trappings with decorations and songs and other assorted paraphernalia. Well, as an alternative, why not dig the similarly timely trappings of the season’s other big religious observance? Yes, it’s also Hanukkah Week in the District and Baltimore, which means it’s a time to shine for Seth Kibel, the saxophonist, clarinetist, and flutist who is also the area’s foremost klezmer musician. Kibel’s Kleztet—actually a quartet featuring the reed man, guitarist Michael Raitzyk, tubaist Ed Goldstein, and drummer Tim Jarvis—puts on an annual program that the leader appropriately calls “A Swingin’ Klezmer Chanukah.” If you haven’t already guessed, that means a concert of jazz-infused klezmer, or klezmer-infused jazz, depending on one’s perspective. Both are important; both are fun; both are reasons to make the gig. Seth Kibel’s Kleztet performs at 8 p.m. at An die Musik, 409 North Charles Street in Baltimore. $10-$15

Friday, December 27

Some artists you can’t miss simply because they’re just too big, too important, too great. Such a one is Benny Golson, the tenor saxophonist and nonagenarian who also has an argument for being jazz’s most important living composer. (I’d place him second to Wayne Shorter, but that’s beside the point.) His compositions include such unarguable standards as “Killer Joe,” “I Remember Clifford,” “Stable Mates,” “Along Came Betty,” and others. The best part, though, is that he’ll tell you the stories behind each and every one. Seeing Golson in a club atmosphere is essential; though he has the stature and the clout to play big venues all he wants (he had a gala birthday celebration at the Kennedy Center, for example), Golson is a master raconteur. Hearing him talk is as much of a treat—and as much the point—as hearing him play. His quartet (whose rhythm section varies a bit, but almost always has the fantastic Sharp Radway on piano) performs at 7:30 and 10 p.m. at Keystone Korner, 1350 Lancaster Street in Baltimore. $25-$45

Sunday, December 29

So far, radio personality and newfound promoter Michael Phillips’ efforts to revitalize jazz at Takoma Station is looking like a success. Two of its three installments thus far have packed the house. (The one that didn’t shouldn’t count; it was scheduled against the last home game of the Nationals’ World Series.) The District has a tendency to empty out in the 52nd week of the year—so if you’re in town, it’s doubly important to get out to Takoma and help make it an ongoing winner. They’re making it easy for you, too, with an all-star quartet led by the great drummer Lenny Robinson. He calls the band Explorations, and it’s staffed with intrepid explorers indeed: pianist Janelle Gill, vibraphonist Chris Barrick, and bassist Lenny Robinson. The photograph you see of the foursome is deceptive: This is the quartet’s first outing together. Don’t let it be the last. Lenny Robinson’s Explorations begins at 6 p.m. at Takoma Station, 6914 Fourth Street NW in DC. $10-$15

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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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