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Yes, NPR’s Jazz Piano Christmas is happening on Friday night, and the very young pianist Joey Alexander will be a special guest. Also, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra is presenting the songs of Frank Sinatra that same night. But you know what, kids? The latter is sold out; the former very nearly so. In the meantime there’s all kinds of fantastic jazz happening around the city that deserves your ears.
Friday, Dec. 4 Donvonte McCoy always surprises me. He’s got a hazy trumpet sound that’s so laid back, you can shut your eyes and imagine him playing it on his back. That’s rather McCoy’s demeanor, too, mellow and good humored—almost blasé. But he’s a thinker, that one. McCoy has a tremendous amount to say, and says most of it on his horn in a way that seems mapped out to the smallest detail. Even when it’s obviously improvised—and it is, let’s be clear on that—he seems to be thinking five notes ahead, about how he’s going to bend a pitch here, slur it into another register there, unexpectedly modulate the bar after that. On “Cheryl,” a tune from his CD The Third Floor, he and saxophonist Ron Sutton trade four-bar phrases with the drummer, the late Junebug Jackson; McCoy cartwheels through the run, without breaking, and lands his final note with a perfect entry into the blues’ IV chord. He must have a calculator in his brain. Donvonte McCoy performs with a quintet at 8 and 10 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $15/$20.
Sunday, Dec. 6 Versatile though he is—and make no mistake about his versatility, folks—when I hear Vince Evans on piano, the first thing I’m reminded of is the funky sounds of Horace Silver. We’re talking not James Brown funky, but 1950s, blues-and-gospel-soaked funky. Evans is his own man, no rank imitator of anyone, and one of the most solid and consistent pianists in both Washington and Baltimore for many years. There’s just a certain kind of resonance in Evans’ notes, a certain hesitancy in his gait that comes through even on the uptempo numbers, that draw on Horace as their catalyst. That’s a good thing. It anchors itself in a kind of at-home-ness that can easily slip away from jazz, opening the gap between the music and the people that has always been a hard problem to solve. Right in JACS’ wheelhouse, of course. Evans performs at 6 p.m. at the Jazz and Cultural Society, 2813 12th St. NE. $5.
Monday, Dec. 7 Most D.C. area jazz folk know by this time about the university jazz ensembles: Chris Vadala‘s ensemble(s) at the University of Maryland; Allyn Johnson‘s at UDC; Fred Irby and Charlie Young’s at Howard. Two weeks ago we even spotlighted Joshua Bayer‘s less-hailed ensemble at American University. But the District is also the home of two important youth jazz ensembles, and while we tend to think of kids playing music as more cute than anything else, these kids are doing damn good work. Damn good work. And so are the gentlemen leading them: Paul Carr (about whom little new can be said) leads the Jazz Academy of Music’s ensemble, and Michael Bowie (ditto) leads the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra. They will perform their holiday concert in tandem this week, and genuinely—if you like Christmas jazz, these kids will knock your socks off. They begin at 7:30 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $15.
Wednesday, Dec. 9 When Brad Linde was in college, majoring in music, he and a group of friends tried an experiment. Each one took up an instrument that was not his/her main axe—for alto/tenor/baritone saxophonist Linde, that meant no saxes of any sort—and put them together in a band. They called it “Therapy Band,” because it was, says Linde, “Cathartic!!” (Those double exclamation points are his.) Linde’s leading a band that he calls the Therapy Band once again, but this time he’s the only one who’s not on his primary instrument. Linde sits behind the drum kit, with Michael Kramer taking up the guitar, Alex Shubert the piano, and Rob Palmay the bass. Also following the primary path? The repertoire. Therapy Band plays the standards: Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Erroll Garner, Barry Harris. See how it shakes out at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $10.