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APRIL 29 & 30
Under the leadership of musical director David N. Baker, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra’s (SJMO) performances are as raucous as they are educational. On radio simulcasts, Baker often proffers an intellectual explanation for the virtues of a forthcoming piece before giving way to a gut-level explanation like “Well, it just swings!” With “Go Harlem: A Tribute to Mary Lou Williams, Chick Webb, and Duke Ellington,” the SJMO celebrates female pianist and composer Williams, whose multifaceted career encompassed big bands in the ’30s, small ensembles in the ’40s, retirement in the ’50s, avant-garde jazz in the ’60s, and her own record label in the ’70s. Webb was the pint-size drummer and big-band leader whose sticks—and band—packed a mighty wallop and helped nurture a green singer named Ella Fitzgerald. As for Ellington, April 29 marks the 96th anniversary of the Washington native’s birth. At 2 & 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 & 7 p.m. Sunday at the National Theater, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. FREE. (202) 633-9163. (Chip Porter)