Thursday, April 7
Yes, Ramsey Lewis is back once again, and yes, he still plays “The In Crowd” every night, and yes, it’s still a great idea to go and see him. Lewis made himself a huge star when he recorded that pop tune at Bohemian Caverns in 1965, reinventing his career to take on the R&B charts and turn them into groove-based, danceable jazz even as the heart of jazz was being reshaped into what was then being called “the new thing.” When groove jazz turned into fusion, Lewis followed it with the extraordinary 1974 record Sun Goddess (a collaboration with the late Maurice White); more recently, he’s become a composer of astonishing depth and classical influence. A rather complete musician, you might say, which the U.S. government seems to understand as they made him an NEA Jazz Master in 2007. Ramsey Lewis performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $60.
Friday, April 8
Two years ago this summer, the Washington Renaissance Orchestra debuted in a brilliant performance at the Lincoln Theatre. At the time, organizer Nasar Abadey (who was also the orchestra’s drummer) promised that the WRO would be an ongoing concern, but this writer hasn’t seen them since (except in a small-group offshoot). Yet Abadey is true to his word, and the 17-piece orchestra is accompanying the wondrous singer Robert E. Person in opening the new “Double Time Jazz” series at THEARC. Word is that Person will perform “Big Band Swing, Classic Broadway Hits and Inspirational Ballads;” Abadey says only that the music is “somewhat of a departure from our usual repertoire.” It’s an exciting and welcome return either way. Robert E. Person and the Washington Renaissance Orchestra perform at 8 p.m.at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE. $15.
A friend of mine noted, when he saw the news about Bohemian Caverns’ closure, that if D.C. jazz needed a new showroom they could do a lot worse than Old Engine 12 Restaurant in Bloomingdale, often known as “Firehouse 12.” Well, as it turns out, the staff at the restaurant was way ahead of them. Already in progress was a new weekly Friday night jazz series called “the DC Listening Room” (or, if you like, #DCListeningRoom) in the admittedly beautiful space in their upstairs lounge. In all honesty, they are still working the kinks out—but they’ve got the foundation for a great new jazz room. They’ve also got the talent for it: In April, the resident artist is Sharón Clark, a vocalist who’s gotten short shrift in these pages. That’s unfortunate. Clark is a…I think the word is robust presence on the bandstand, so much so that it’s easy to think that that’s all there is to her. In fact, there’s incredible and deep subtlety in Clark’s music. She performs beginning at 8 p.m., and ending late, at Old Engine 12 Restaurant, 1626 North Capitol St. NW. Free. (But order something!)
Sunday, April 10
On the subject of groove jazz (as mentioned in connection with Ramsey Lewis), a fellow from Buffalo named Lonnie Smith had his big break in that style. Smith played the Hammond B-3 organ, was steeped in R&B and gospel as well as the jazz-organ tradition of Jimmy Smith and Wild Bill Davis. But in the ’70s, Smith changed it up: He became Dr. Lonnie Smith, and his music became darker, funkier, more immersed in voodoo. He soon became one of the most sampled musicians in the hip-hop genre. And these days, with hip-hop fusing to jazz in incredibly imaginative, innovative ways, Smith is getting in on that act, too. You can hear it in his aptly named new album, Evolution, featuring the ever-forward-thinking Robert Glasper among others. You can also hear it in his live trio, which doesn’t feature Glasper (it features guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake, but is brilliant nevertheless. Dr. Lonnie Smith and his trio perform at 7:30 p.m. at Bethesda Blues & Jazz, 7719 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $35-$45.