Thursday, April 10 Gospel music gets impossibly short shrift when discussing the roots and tributaries of jazz. Oh, we’ll talk all day and into the night about blues, ragtime, second-line parade bands, and even European-steeped institutions like the Creole operas of New Orleans. The church is an afterthought much of the time. But when Cyrus Chestnut sits down to play piano, the role of gospel music in jazz is impossible to dismiss. The 51-year-old Baltimorean resists that kind of pigeonholing, looking to cast his lot with every possible style of music, but everywhere he turns the sanctified church seems to follow. Sure, he plays an album of Elvis Presley‘s songs, but he’s also claimed to know “practically every religious song ever written.” Sure, he plays bebop tunes, but how many of them are bebop arrangements of hymns—and how many times does he quote those hymns in the tunes that aren’t? I know a way to find out. Cyrus Chestnut performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $27.50.
Friday, April 11 We discuss the area’s jazz education programs quite often, but the Levine School of Music is surely the most overlooked of these. It’s a nonprofit conservatory foundation that serves the entire community, and this weekend it’s strutting its stuff with a jazz festival. The kickoff event for Levine’s JazzFest is a splendid concert that celebrates the 1962 meeting of guitar great Wes Montgomery with vibraphone great Milt “Bags” Jackson (as documented on their album Bags Meets Wes!). D.C. vibes stalwart Chuck Redd plays Jackson’s instrument, and Levine faculty member Josh Walker plays Montgomery’s; they’re joined by the Levine School Jazz Quartet, a rotating lineup of students and faculty members. It’s a scintillating way to kick off Levine’s festival that takes place at 7 p.m. at Levine’s Sallie Mae Hall, 2801 Upton Street NW. $15-$20.
Saturday, April 12 Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman are two curious but indispensable figures in the evolution of jazz music. They came into the tradition with unique, idiosyncratic visions of how it could be made, how its rhythm and melody and harmony could fit together in new shapes and colors. Paradoxically, their music still sounds jarring and unconventional decades after they first made it—and yet, their ideas have been thoroughly integrated into the foundation of jazz. (Monk, it should be said, has been thoroughly assimilated by Coleman, tying these two together yet further.) Willard Jenkins, a D.C.-based jazz writer, producer, and broadcaster, is holding a discussion on these giants (co-sponsored by the Anacostia Community Museum and the National Portrait Gallery) in celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, a.k.a. JazzApril, followed by a performance of Monk and Coleman’s music by the Howard University Jazz Ensemble. (Also on the program: the presentation of this year’s JJA “Jazz Hero” Award to WPFW and Transparent Productions’ Bobby Hill.) It takes place at 2 p.m. at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Kogod Auditorium, 8th and G Streets NW. Free.
This year is the centennial of one of the great watershed years in political and cultural history. The year 1914 saw the outbreak of World War I, the creation of Mother’s Day, the debuts of both Babe Ruth and Charlie Chaplin—and the creation of “Saint Louis Blues,” the W.C. Handy song that remains the first great benchmark in the history of the blues. In its honor, the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra—the U.S.’s official resident big band—is putting on a concert. The program not only celebrates Handy and “Saint Louis Blues”; it traces the history and development of the blues in the 100 years therefrom. “Forms of the Blues” promises a sweeping panorama of the musical tradition, using both the large SJMO ensemble and small groups drawn from it to explore a music of rich history, colossal variety, and, as we see a century on, endless possibility. The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra performs at 7:30 p.m. at the Museum of Natural History’s Baird Auditorium, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. $20.