Jazz in DC and Baltimore

by Michael J. West

Tuesday, January 14

As the Baltimore-Washington jam session scene has had new life breathed into it, the traditional jazz scene—particularly strong in Baltimore—has as usual been a bit overlooked. Still, if there is not a terrifically rich menu of trad-jazz jam sessions, there remains one solid and reliable outpost. De Kleine Duevel, a Belgian restaurant in B-more’s trendy Hampden neighborhood, hosts one every Tuesday night. (Appropriate, given that the first great star of European trad-jazz, Django Reinhardt, was a native of Belgium.) It’s sponsored by the great Swing Underground record label; hosted by the great banjoist/bassist Zach Serleth (who infuses his playing with an Eastern European twist); open to anyone with that old-school, hot-jazz swing feel in their chops (or anyone who wants that feel in their ears and feet); and, best of all, costs not a cent for either musicians or appreciators. Go on out and get your lid flipped. The Trad Jazz Jam begins at 8 p.m. at De Kleine Duevel, 3602 Hickory Avenue in Baltimore. Free (But order something!)

Friday, January 17

It started in 1999 at a historic church in Southwest Washington that had been, and was determined to again be, a neighborhood church. The community it built—and built on jazz—opens its doors to anyone in the District of Columbia and environs, but it is assuredly built around the people who live within a short walk from the little church. Many of them indeed have lived there for their whole lives, and the music is their anchor. Westminster Presbyterian Church’s “Jazz Night” is a cornerstone of Washington DC jazz in the 21st century. As it celebrates its twenty-first anniversary as such, a host of musicians is turning out to show just how important that outpost is. Trumpeter DeAndrey Howard, saxophonists Paul Carr and Marshall Keys, vibraphonist Chuck Redd, pianists Bob Butta and Wade Beach, bassists Steve Novosel and James King, and drummers Percy Smith and Nasar Abadey will tell you all about it. Jazz Night at Westminster’s 21st Anniversary Celebration begins at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I Street SW. $20

Saturday, January 18

When you see “Big Chief” in front of Donald Harrison’s name, it’s not just some marketing gimmick. The New Orleans-born alto saxophonist and composer is Big Chief of the Congo Square Nation, one of the major and longest-lived Mardi Gras Indian tribes. Most of us, if we know about the Mardi Gras Indians, know them for their colorful and distinctive costumes and dances. However, beneath the pomp and circumstance is a serious scholarship of African music and its development in the Americas (especially in New Orleans, the meltingest pot of American melting pots). In other words, to call Donald Harrison “Big Chief” is to acknowledge the depth of his understanding of his music and its roots. Of course, one need only hear his music to be fairly certain of all that anyway. He calls it “nouveau swing,” because for all the sweep of history in his work, it is keenly attuned to the possibilities of the present as well. Big Chief Donald Harrison performs at 7:30 and 10 p.m. at Keystone Korner, 1350 Lancaster Street in Baltimore. $20-$30

Sunday, January 19

In Washington, the annual festival calendar kicks off early. Specifically, it kicks off over Martin Luther King Day weekend with trombonist Shannon Gunn and CapitalBop’s Jazz and Freedom Festival, this year co-presented with Eaton Hotels. Let’s state from the outset that this is a social-justice-oriented festival (that’s the “Freedom” in its name), so if you’re not down with the politics you’d best either steer clear or check your opposing beliefs at the door, because they’re a key part of the goings-on here. That’s the case every year; this time out, the festival is a benefit for the “ICE Out of DC” coalition, and you will surely not be surprised to hear that immigration is the subject of the festival’s opening panel discussion. That being done at the start, the festival will then be given over to Gunn’s Jazz and Freedom Octet; drummer Angel Bethea’s trio; guitarist Cristian Perez’s quartet; poet Claudia Rojas; and bass clarinetist Todd Marcus and his trio. The evening ends with an open jam session, and anyone (and possibly everyone) may show up. The Jazz and Freedom Festival begins at 3 p.m. at Eaton DC, 1201 K Street NW. $20 suggested donation

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


Linda Perry: “A Series Of Gut Feelings”

As the leader of nineties pop rockers 4 Non Blondes Linda Perry broke down barriers in the male dominates music business and created one of the decade’s most catchy songs: “What’s Up?” Perry released one stellar album with the band before going out on her own.

Read More »

Strange Weather Drops New Track, “Tidal Wave”

Strange Weather is the experimental-pop project of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sean Brennan. In their bones, the songs are timeless classics, embodied as romantic psychedelia – cinematic daydreams with echoes of Talking Heads, Pink Floyd, and Esquivel.

Read More »