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Friday, January 16 Sixteen years ago this weekend, Westminster Presbyterian Church became host to an experiment. Reverend Brian Hamilton wanted to reach out to the community, especially to the neighborhood (Southwest Waterfront) surrounding his church. Former Washington-football-team player and current jazz vocalist Dick Smith wanted a reliable outpost for local, straight-ahead players to play to an appreciative audience. Thus from these two fathers was born Jazz Night in Southwest, a weekly, early-evening, low-cover gig that features the best of the D.C.-Baltimore jazz scene and one of the warmest, most appreciative audiences they could have hoped for. It’s a staple that deserves to be celebrated, at every birthday and otherwise, making a 16-anniversary show perhaps an odd number but an anniversary worth marking anyway. And on the stage, Smith himself fronts a band featuring pianist Aaron Graves, bassist Michael Bowie, and drummer Mark Prince. They hit at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian, 4th and I Streets SW. $5.
My first experience of seeing live jazz in the District was in 2001, at the great Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill. Holding court in the upstairs bar was trumpeter Kevin Cordt, leading a quartet in a great set of post-bop. It was a great hang, and a (Friday night) weekly one; when Mr. Henry’s stopped hosting live music a few years later, it was a dark day indeed. Somebody on staff at Mr. Henry’s seems to agree: In 2015, the restaurant has brought the music back. Upstairs has been renovated, and the Cordt Quartet is back in the saddle. It’s not quite the same—-Cordt is now set to be a biweekly, not weekly, fixture. (Also, I no longer live walking distance from the bar, but that’s neither here nor there.) But it nonetheless re-establishes a regular jazz gig on the Hill. And that’s an important development. The Kevin Cordt Quartet performs at 8 p.m. at Mr. Henry’s, 601 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Free.
Saturday, January 17 Cyrus Chestnut is hardly a rare visitor to Blues Alley, or to D.C. If you’ve been paying attention, you’re well aware of his New York career, which goes back into the mid-1980s (when he was a member of the great Terence Blanchard/Donald Harrison quintet). But the pianist spent his formative years in Baltimore and frequently dropped in on the District. “I spent many days at the One Step Down,” he recalled in a recent interview. “Seeing [pianist] Reuben Brown and getting a chance to work with the great [bassist] Steve Novosel and [tenor saxophonist] Buck Hill. I used to play with [alto saxophonist] Marshall Keys, and a vocalist by the name of Jamie Broumas. And so you know, I’ve been around.” But it wasn’t until last autumn that Chestnut was more than just around—-he became a faculty jazz piano teacher at Howard University, establishing him as a major sentry in D.C. jazz. This weekend marks his first major local gig since landing that position. He performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $27.50.
Sunday, January 18 Well, it wouldn’t do for CapitalBop to sponsor merely one weekend festival in the month of January, would it? This one is a big one, co-presented with the great local trombonist Shannon Gunn: the Jazz and Freedom Festival. It’s being held over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend because it has a goal of promoting the connections between jazz and social justice (half of the proceeds are going to Empower DC); appropriately, its Sunday afternoon proceedings begin with a panel discussion on jazz as a conduit for activism. Then comes the music. Gunn’s Bullettes Octet with a tribute to Charles Mingus; Trio OOO, with saxophonist Aaron Martin, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Sam Lohman; a duo performance by trombonist Reginald Cyntje and bassist Herman Burney; vocalist Alison Crockett; another duo, this one with two drummers, Nasar Abadey and Jamal Moore; and an octet that will perform selections from Max Roach’s legendary Freedom Now! Suite. Also, food, vendors, and a post-show jam session. What else do you need? The Jazz and Freedom Festival begins at 4 p.m. at Union Arts, 411 New York Avenue NE. $20 (suggested donation).