Friday, August 14 When you’re watching any jazz scene, local or national, never underestimate the importance of the hustle. The players that rise to the top of the heap, regardless of instrument, are the ones who are busting their asses, hitting the jam sessions, sitting in with this band or that, finding gigs of their own as either side-player or leader, and networking with their peers and club owners. Talent and originality are crucial matters, of course, but they only translate into a career when combined with hustle. Now with that in mind, let’s talk about Lionel Lyles. He’s a saxophonist from Baltimore, one whose swing is intense, determined, and yet as natural as breathing. He has a staggering capacity for finding new melodic possibilities inside of a composition. But to get to the heart of the matter, he can be found everywhere these days. Lyles clearly intends to establish himself on the D.C. scene, and to that end, you’ll find him anywhere there’s a jam session, taking any open place on any bandstand that will have him. (And the way he plays, lots of people will have him.) He’s even got a weekly Washington gig happening: a happy hour stand on 14th Street, the former site of HR-57, and you’ve just gotta hear him. He plays at 6:30 p.m. at Sotto, 1610 14th Street NW. Free.
Saturday, August 15 Pianist Tim Whalen had a big start to the year. He released his CD Oblivion: The Music of Bud Powell, and did a number of excellent and very successful concerts in support of it. But Whalen is a busy man, and his band (a septet) went into “hibernation” for some months while he tended to other things—-among them, his “Living Room Sessions.” But this weekend, Whalen is reawakening the beast, bringing the septet back onto the bandstand with new material to perform. That’s new Whalen originals, you understand; alongside them will be new arrangements of Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, Mulgrew Miller, and Cedar Walton, plus, yes, a Powell tune or two (or several) from Oblivion. Welcome back, Tim. The Tim Whalen Septet performs at 9 and 11 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U Street NW. $15.
Tuesday, August 18 A few weeks ago, I noted that Shannon Gunn‘s new Firebird Organ Trio was a rare one indeed: a combination of organ and trombone. Now, having seen that combo play, I can’t help but think, “what took them so long?” The organ and the trombone are a natural fit in terms of range (even with organ doubling as ground bass), timbre, and soul, something for which the ‘bone, with its unique palette of tone colors, has an unheralded knack. Gunn compounds that with a canny melodic sense in her improvisations, somehow tightly thematic and loosely abstract at the same time. Drummer Allen Jones has an intricately formed but solid sense of groove, no weaker tracing a funk line than in swinging away. The organ is a rotating seat; this week, it will be warmed by jazz polymath Todd Simon, who has yet to prove himself anything but fantastic in the music. The Firebird Organ Trio performs at 8 p.m. at Columbia Station, 2325 18th Street NW. Free.
Wednesday, August 19 It seems like every time John Kocur appears on Arts Desk, it’s with the exact same annotation: He’s an excellent player and improviser who we see so infrequently that it must be mentioned when he has a gig in town. If it seems like old news at this point, though, look back and you’ll realize that Kocur really only hits the scene once or twice a year at most. He’s a busy educator out in Virginia, where he’s also built himself a musical life. But again, “The Smoker” has got something to say to those of us north of the Potomac. Last month, he brought his quartet to Baltimore, and this month it’s Blues Alley with guitarist Josh Walker, bassist Karine Chapdelaine, and drummer Andrew Hare. Kocur is a fine composer, but it doesn’t sound like there’s no material on tap for this stand; it’s just one night of material from his two previously released albums (The Smoker and Fortitude). That will not make it any less worthy. The John Kocur Quartet performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $20.