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Friday, Dec. 16
Before there was the Washington Women in Jazz Festival, or the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival, there was DIVA, an all-female jazz ensemble created and led by Sherrie Maricle. The point, from its very beginning, was to give women a specific spotlight and to show that they are as capable of hard swinging and hard blowing as any male jazz musician. And yikes, is that true—in fact two Washington musicians, baritone saxophonist Leigh Pilzer and trombonist Jen Krupa, are members, and if you’ve seen them on local bandstands you already know that their chops are unimpeachable. Of course the name Diva means a female singer, so it’s only natural that this seasonal concert should find them paying tribute to one. Ella Fitzgerald, whose centennial is one of many that jazz will celebrate next year, released a beloved Christmas album (Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas) in 1960. Maricle and company are performing the original big band arrangements for that record. They’ll be helped on this occasion by singers Brenda Earle, Sue Giles, and the wonderful Camille Thurman. They perform at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s KC Jazz Club, 2700 F St. NW. $30.
Saturday, Dec. 17
Last month, The Graham Georgetown—a modestly sized boutique hotel just south of M Street NW—began hosting a rotation of singers in the small basement restaurant and bar known as The Alex. Curated by area pianist Chris Grasso (who else?), it’s a wonderful addition to a place that already presented itself as a “speakeasy.” Indeed, the new program is being called Speakeasy Jazz Nights, because what other kind of music are you gonna have in a speakeasy, am I right? This week, the pipes in question belong to Lori Williams, the stunning, soulful, arresting jazz singer Setlist’s love for whom is extensively documented. Alongside your truffle mac ‘n cheese and your craft cocktail, enjoy penetrating vocals (accompanied by wonderful guitarist Evan Samuels and bassist Zack Pride) from 8 to 11 p.m. at The Alex, in the basement of the Graham Georgetown, 1075 Thomas Jefferson St. NW. Free (but reservations required).
Sunday, Dec. 18
This writer has always been, shall we say, a little skeptical of Kurt Elling. He’s an undeniably talented, undeniably skillful jazz vocalist; but his work can vary from the truly hip to the going-through-the-motions, hitting-the-crooner-marks. So it seems only reasonable to approach a Christmas album by Elling with some caution. No genre in the world can go south faster than Christmas music. Instead, Elling’s A Beautiful Day might well be the hippest thing he’s ever done. It is a remarkable balance of wintry chill and perennial human warmth, his voice at times evincing either; the arrangements do the same. On the wordless “Wenceslaus Image” pieces, Elling is a low flame melting the frost away. His version of “We Three Kings,” is a tug-of-war of both approaches. It’s some of his finest work, holiday theme or no, and it is coming our way. Kurt Elling performs (with guest trumpeter Till Bronner and opener Mark Meadows) at 6:30 p.m. at 600 14th St. NW. $27.75-$59.75.
Wednesday, Dec. 21
If Cassandra Wilson is your favorite singer, or even one of your favorite singers, you’re doing something very, very right. Her low, dark contralto voice has a quality like semisweet chocolate—that touch, however slight, of bitterness running through it is crucial. The jazz and Great American songbooks are also crucial to her music. But so are the blues, the deep Delta blues represented by the delivery of Son House’s “Death Letter” that has become something of her theme song. And she doesn’t stop there, either: Wilson has covered The Band, Glen Campbell, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and Stevie Wonder, to name a few. Now imagine the things that Wilson would take from those artists and their work, and what she would bring to them…and transfer that creative energy to songs of the season. Oh, yeah. You want to hear that, don’t you? Cassandra Wilson performs at 7 and 10 p.m. at Bethesda Blues & Jazz, 7719 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda. $49.50.