Saturday, May 27
Disclaimer: I live in Petworth. So there may be some bias at work when I say how cool it is that the Petworth Jazz Project is a thing. Briefly, once a month these folks put on a free Saturday evening show for the whole family at the Petworth Recreation Center off Georgia Avenue NW. And they don’t skimp on the talent, either: it’s local folks, and the best that the local scene has to offer. In some cases, it’s 17 of the best that the local scene has to offer, all at once. And by some cases, I mean this one very specific case in which the beloved Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra brings its assemblage of wonderful talent to the park for a night of world-class big band music, much of it written by the finest of large-ensemble composers and arrangers, and played by the finest of large ensembles (led by the redoubtable Joe Herrera and Brad Linde, who play trumpet and baritone saxophone, respectively). The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra performs at 7 p.m. at Petworth Recreation Center, 8th and Taylor Streets NW. Free.
Sunday, May 28
When John F. Kennedy was President, a Washington D.C. jazz ensemble named itself the JFK Quintet—because of its dedication to pursuing “New Frontiers.” This week, the Kennedy Center celebrates its namesake’s 100th birthday, and brings in another musician (this one from New York by way of Philadelphia) with a passion for new frontiers. George Burton is a pianist with a luminous sound and a fully formed vision; while last year’s The Truth of What I Am > The Narcissist is his debut recording, Burton has been making the scene since 2000, honing his musical concept to perfection before setting out to display it for the world. Burton brings his superlative quintet along to assist, along with D.C. vocalist/poet Heidi Martin. He wants the set, which includes songs from his album as well as new material, to be a commentary on today’s American society and how JFK’s legacy has helped to shape it. The George Burton Quintet performs at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW. Free.
Tuesday, May 30
The great trombone/organ ensemble Firebird Trio, led by trombonist Shannon Gunn, has been on a J.J. Johnson kick lately. One of the band’s signatures is that they play a classic jazz album in its entirety during the late set. For at least the last three weeks, the album is one of J.J.’s. God knows he deserves it. Johnson is one of the great musical minds of the 20th century, an innovator of the bebop revolution who is often overlooked by his compatriots Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Kenny Clarke. The trombone was somewhere between neglected and constantly shunned by the first wave of beboppers, in part because its technical structure made the new music exceedingly difficult to play. Johnson was the man who found his way around that, inventing his own approach to the music that solved the technical problems and opened up bebop to the unwieldy instrument. He had his most important moments in the ‘40s and ‘50s, but his 1964 album Proof Positive found him displaying continued relevance and understanding as he assailed the modal and rhythmic innovations that Miles Davis and John Coltrane had established. And that is the album that the Firebird Trio will perform during its night beginning at 8 p.m. at Columbia Station, 2325 18th St. NW. Free.
Wednesday, May 31
There’s a lovely blues feel in Marty Nau’s alto saxophone playing. It harkens back to the days of Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter, the original jazz masters of the instrument who brought a vocal, sometimes even come-hither quality to the blues. But Nau is no prewar throwback: he’s mastered the Charlie Parker-Sonny Stitt school of the alto, too, and that really is his starting point in the beautiful long lines he unspools with an intuitive swing in them. Here’s the TL;DR version: Marty plays the pretty notes. Setlist hereby acknowledges that it was a crime that we didn’t highlight Nau during his lengthy Tuesday night residency at Twins Jazz a few years ago. If it’s not too late for redemption, however, this is a good time to point out that Nau is returning to his old stomping grounds with his killer quartet. They perform at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $10.