Thursday, Oct. 15 Two weeks ago, the Thad Wilson Big Band was more like a little big band, with eleven pieces on hand. But they made it sound as big as ever anyway, trumpeter Wilson often filling the empty seat(s) on his instrument next to Charles Whalen and a full saxophone section taking the helm on a set of often ragged, but intense and lyrical swingers (many of them originals). Indeed, the swing got deeper and deeper as the music went on, the ensemble pushing it for their collective lives. Well, the two-week rotation brings the Thad Wilson Big Band around again this Thursday, and this time, they will be more or less the full complement. (Trombonist Reginald Cyntje has noted that he will be absent.) So if a depleted version can bring the power of a whole ensemble, what can a full ensemble bring? They begin around 9 p.m. at Columbia Station, 2325 18th St. NW. Free.
Friday, Oct. 16 In his thirty-five years as jazz’s greatest nurturer of young talent, Art Blakey took on precisely one woman to play in the Jazz Messengers. That speaks very much to the sexism that is both foundational and institutional in the music; but perversely, it tells us that that one woman must have had something incredibly special to overcome those obstacles—in 1970! That’s when Joanne Brackeen took the piano chair, beginning a now 45-year path to extraordinary artistic discoveries and a progressive style that matches bold resonances and polished swing with high drama and dark undertones, both of them emphasized by flights of harmonic fancy (and daredevilism). She uses “out” playing as exclamation points on a style that’s both lyrical and explosive, sometimes both at once. And she seems at all times to be having a great time. The Joanne Brackeen Quartet performs at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Kenendy Center’s Terrace Gallery, 2700 F St. NW.
Saturday, Oct. 17 This past Tuesday was the 75th birthday of tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Jazz should celebrate this as a bank holiday. Sanders was essentially the heir to John Coltrane, the second sax in Trane’s last band who picked up the mantle of experimental, spiritual jazz when the other man died in 1967. His most famous composition, “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” had enough currency that no less a figure than Louis Armstrong performed it. His name itself has enough cache that it is the title (and entire lyric) of a composition by the great Kahil El’Zabar. His playing, which made innovative use of techniques like overblowing and split tones, had Ornette Coleman calling him “probably the best tenor player in the world.” Of course, all of this makes it sound like Sanders is so avant-garde that you can’t get near him without an advance degree in music. In fact, he’s often quite gentle, and today he more often dwells in the kind of modal jazz that preceded the mid ’60s avant-garde breakthrough. There’s tremendous gospel feeling in it, and it even inspires him to sing here and there in the set. And it has as much incredible passion as it did 50 years ago. Pharoah Sanders performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th Street NW. $40.