by Michael J. West
Tuesday, December 3
It used to be the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. As of right now, it’s the Herbie Hancock International Jazz Competition—a more apt name (one whose namesake is still alive to endorse it himself) for what remains the most prestigious and consequential contest in the jazz universe. The winner receives $30,000 in scholarship money as well as the minor perk of a guaranteed recording contract with Concord Records. This year’s competition is for guitarists and is just one part of an all-star gala ceremony at the Kennedy Center that will also pay tribute to trumpeter, composer, bandleader, and living legend Terence Blanchard. The performing stars in that all-star ceremony include—wait for it—saxophonists Bobby Watson and John Beasley; vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater, Cassandra Wilson, Gretchen Parlato, and Lizz Wright; and the founder of our first, the great pianist Hancock himself. And, of course, the winner of the guitar competition. The gala begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F Street NW in D.C. $35-$125
Wednesday, December 4
One of the best things about vibraphonist Warren Wolf, apart from his brilliant technique and increasingly high profile, is that he has never become too big (in his own head, I mean) to stop playing the local scene in DC and (especially) Baltimore, where Wolf was born and raised and still lives. Yet his ever-greater currency in jazz means that he has ever more connections with ever-more-legendary musicians, which is how he ends up joining bassist Christian McBride, one of the world’s most famous living jazz musicians, in a special one night only performance. Wolf and McBride have actually been working together for quite a while. They are both signed to Detroit’s Mack Avenue Records, and McBride supported Wolf on the vibes man’s 2011 debut album (Warren Wolf) and two of his follow-ups. Wolf, in turn, was a member of McBride’s acoustic ensemble Inside Straight. This performance falls into the “none of the above” category, with Wolf and McBride supported by pianist Alex Brown and drummer Obed Calvaire, both fine musicians. They perform at 7 p.m. at Caton Castle, 20 South Caton Avenue in Baltimore. $40-$45
Friday, December 6
Jazz organists are in rather short supply in D.C.—certainly since the loss of the great virtuoso Lady Byron in 2004. Allyn Johnson plays, but he’s not an organ specialist; Bill Heid is something of a specialist, though he spends a lot of time on tour. In Jackie Hairston, however, the District does have one highly dexterous and hard swinging Hammond B-3 specialist. The downside: He does not play terrifically often these days. That, however, makes it much more imperative for you to see him when you have the chance. If he’s not a terrifically prolific gigger, Hairston nonetheless has a longtime trio at his disposal, featuring tenor saxophonist Michael Hairston and drummer Percy Smith. Interestingly, he also has on hand a piano player: Wade Beach, another longtime Washingtonian and a highly acclaimed and respected presence on jazz bandstands throughout the DMV. What will we hear with a pianist and an organist on the same stage at the same time? I know a way to find out. The Jackie Hairston Trio featuring Wade Beach performs at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I Street SW in D.C. $5
Sunday, December 7
Seems Pearl Harbor Day 2019 falls on a Sunday, just as the original did in 1941. And if you play your cards right, this one can live in infamy too…as far as you’re concerned, anyway. You see, Eddie Palmieri—the dominant genius of salsa and Latin jazz piano of the past half century—is hosting something of a residency this month at Baltimore’s Keystone Korner. His first week there finds Palmieri paying tribute to another major figure in Latin jazz—though not, like Palmieri himself, a Latino. Swedish-American Cal Tjader was, in fact, the first white musician to gain traction in Latin jazz circles, a vibraphonist who helped make the textures of his instrument a crucial part of the Afro-Cuban sound. (His 1964 album Soul Sauce is an unsung staple of the genre.) Tjader passed away in 1982, but his legacy is as enormous and fecund as ever. Palmieri is a fitting vessel for paying tribute to it…although since he himself doesn’t play vibes, he’d best have a ringer on hand. That’s what the great Joe Locke is for. Eddie Palmieri with Joe Locke performs at 5 and 7:30 p.m. at Keystone Korner, 1350 Lancaster Street in Baltimore. $35-$45
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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