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The D.C. Jazz Festival is eleven days long this year—long enough, in fact, that we couldn’t cover the entire preview in a single installment of Jazz Setlist. So here’s another one!
Thursday, June 14
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, arguments were being made (including by yours truly) over whether Brad Mehldau was deservedly the major jazz pianist of his reputation, or whether lionizing him had overlooked the Mulgrew Millers of the world who should have been regarded as towering geniuses but perhaps labored in his shadow. Perhaps there was a racial element to this, the arguments went. Meanwhile many of us (including yours truly) were in the process overlooking Geri Allen, the towering genius who has at least as much claim to era-defining vision and influence as Miller and Mehldau. Perhaps there was a gender element to this, which is doubly absurd considering how many of the now predominant male pianists, from Vijay Iyer to Orrin Evans, are outspoken in extolling Geri’s influence, now and before her untimely death last year. Terri Lyne Carrington isn’t even a pianist—she’s a drummer—and she is another outspoken student of Allen who brings her appreciation of the late giant to the annals of the D.C. Jazz Festival. Carrington leads an ensemble featuring the aforementioned Evans on piano, Tia Fuller on alto saxophone, Charenee Wade on vocals, and DCJF artist in residence Ben Williams on bass. It begins at 7:30 p.m. at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, 600 I St. NW. $35.
Friday, June 15
It’s damn near impossible to overstate the case on this. The summit of two Afro-Cuban piano players at the Kennedy Center at this point is a spectacular artistic and cultural event. It’s so much bigger than Trump and Kim in Singapore. (For one thing, it won’t have to pretend it accomplished something.) Chucho Valdés is the reigning member of a Cuban jazz piano dynasty, the founder of the great ensembles Irakere and Afro-Cuban Messengers and a monumental virtuoso. Gonzalo Rubalcaba, 20 years Valdés’s junior, is also the scion of a musical Havana family, one who has created a legacy within American jazz by working with the likes of Charlie Haden, Ron Carter, Chick Corea, and Joe Lovano. If you’re anything like me, the fact that their two-man collaborative unit operates under the name Trance not only says a lot, it will be enough to profoundly whet your appetite. Add to the fact that they’ve beefed up the project by writing music for two pianos, and—oh, my. Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba perform at 8 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW. $39-$59.
Saturday, June 16
This year’s keynote address takes place not just in a new venue for the DC Jazz Festival, but in a new quadrant of the District of Columbia. DCJF’s foothold in southwest DC has until now mainly come through incorporating Jazz Night at Westminster into their schedule—a good start, but almost entirely superficial. But the quadrant/neighborhood has been completely transformed by the development at The Wharf, development that begs to be used for a major citywide festival like this one. The outdoor marathon of performances on the waterfront (we’ll get to that for Sunday) is a build-up, at least where Saturday is concerned, to the evening’s blowout at The Anthem. It begins with Maceo Parker, the brilliant saxophonist for the James Brown Band of the 1960s (that’s him you hear soloing on “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Cold Sweat”); next up comes R+R=NOW, a new project helmed by festival favorite Robert Glasper and featuring fellow luminaries Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Terrace Martin, Derrick Hodge, Taylor McFerrin, and Justin Tyson. Finally, on comes Leslie Odom Jr., the brilliant singer and performer who became a smash not long ago when he originated the role of Aaron Burr in the Broadway musical Hamilton. The program begins at 5:30 p.m. at The Anthem, 901 Wharf St. SW. $75-$140.
Sunday, June 17
The nice thing about the outdoor performance marathon that is “DC Jazzfest at the Wharf” is, like its previous incarnations at the Yards Park and the National Mall, it goes for two full afternoons. And on Sunday, it doesn’t act as an opening act for anything else—the outdoor concerts represent the whole show. Music begins at the District Pier at 12 noon and continues onward for more than seven hours. You can drop in and out as you please (but why the hell would you do that?), and there’ll be more music in store for you when you get back. It begins with a big band performance led by New York-based composer/vocalist Jihye Lee, featuring Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra veterans Sean Jones (trumpet) and Ted Nash (alto saxophone) within its ranks. Following that are…well, too many to describe in depth. Highlights include Chilean saxophonist Melissa Aldana, who won the Thelonious Monk Competition in 2013 and now leads a dynamite trio called Crash; a strange but tantalizing duet combination of harpist Edmar Castaneda and harmonicist Gregoire Maret; and the spectacular Italian trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso and quartet. Oh, yeah—and it’s free. It begins at 12 p.m. at District Pier, 900 Wharf St. SW. And again, Free.