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Happy New Year! Much of this week finds the jazz world converging on New Orleans for the Jazz Education Network (JEN) conference; the rest finds it converging on New York for Winter Jazz Fest (WJF). And yet in D.C., the beat goes on. As it always does.
Thursday, Jan. 5
Marshall Keys appears a lot in these pages, doesn’t he? The alto saxophonist and D.C. native is very simply one of the best musicians we have. He’s got a clean, smart sound on his horn, one with an extraordinary current of assurance running through it. And his phrasing! Eloquent and thoughtful, it has its foundation in Charlie Parker’s playbook (like every saxophonist does and has since World War II), but it also has tendrils that stretch backwards to Benny Carter’s, forwards to Kenny Garrett’s, inwards to Marshall Keys’s own playbook. (Keys plays soprano, too, and it shares many of these virtues.) He also plays with two superlative rhythm players in his weekly trio: Michael Bowie on bass, Mark Prince on drums. They play at 8 p.m. at Jojo’s Restaurant, 1518 U St. NW. Free (but order something!).
Friday, Jan. 6
Another stalwart (who also has a weekly gig at Jojo), Tedd Baker is a highly regarded, well-traveled tenor sax man. He’s got roots in the Sonny Rollins tradition—sleek, aggressive, rhythmically propulsive, equipped to assay complex harmonies. It also shows in his embrace of powerful rhythm sections, including the “tenor trio” configuration (tenor, bass, drums) that Sonny helped to pioneer. Bassist Kris Funn and drummer C.V. Dashiell are two of his favorites, deservedly so. But he’s not averse to augmenting them with a pianist like the fantastic Janelle Gill, either—and apparently, he’s also happy to work with vocalists like the wonderful Imani Grace-Cooper, an alum of Howard University’s beloved Afro Blue ensemble. And let’s throw in another “beloved” while we’re at it, because the aforementioned names are all working with Baker (under the unassuming name of “Tedd Baker and Friends”) at one of the city’s most beloved venues. They begin at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4th and I Streets SW. $5.
Sunday, Jan. 8
Aaron Myers is a busy, busy man. (Busy.) For one thing, he’s become an extremely involved activist in D.C., for musicians (first and foremost) and many other causes. He’s also the house vocalist at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill, performing frequently at its weekly jam sessions and regularly as a headliner in his own right. He’s also been known to take on other venues here and there. And if Myers’ demand is high, it’s probably because his talent level is too. Strewn with gravel and equipped with a folksy cadence, his voice is one that might be more closely associated with a gospel or soul singer (think Otis Redding, or Sam Moore). But the swing is strong with this one, and Myers and jazz fit each other comfortably. He should also prove a good fit for Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, which has quickly become a hometown staple. Aaron Myers performs at 6 p.m. at AJACS, 2813 12th Street NE. $5.
Wednesday, Jan. 11
For some years now, every time John Kocur has appeared in the Jazz Setlist, mention has been made of his infrequent appearances. (Once again for the record, this infrequency stems from his busy life as a family man and educator at NoVa, though Northern Virginia has correspondingly seen somewhat more regular gigs from the alto saxophonist than D.C. proper has.) News has arrived this week, however, that Kocur—a saxophonist and composer of such zeal that he’s affectionately known as “The Smoker”—has been given the opportunity to premiere what has the potential to be a continuing stand, right here in the District. It’s a no-cover gig in Mount Pleasant, a neighborhood that has plenty of live music but absolutely needs more jazz. What will determine whether it becomes a steady concern? Whether you show up and make this first one a success. The John Kocur Trio performs at 9 p.m. at Marx Café, 3023 Mt. Pleasant St. NW. Free (but order something!).