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Friday, March 28
Forty-five years ago next month, D.C.’s greatest musical son, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, returned home and visited the White House (where his father had sometimes worked as a butler in the early years of the 20th century) to celebrate his 70th birthday. It was a huge gala: A tribute band featuring Dave Brubeck and J.J. Johnson (among many others) performed Ellington’s greatest hits for the maestro himself, and the Duke got up at the end of the night to perform an improvised tune for First Lady Pat Nixon. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor for civilians, from her husband. It was a big enough moment in jazz history that it’s been the subject of a CD, a book, and an official White House documentary, the latter of which will screen this week at Westminster Presbyterian’s Jazz Night. Following, that is, a performance by the wonderful local saxophonist Antonio Parker and a quintet that includes trombonist Reginald Cyntje, pianist Darius Scott, bassist Cheyney Thomas, and drummer Keith Killgo. It’s another all-star tribute in another great D.C. building. Friday Night Jazz and the screening of Ellington at the White House takes place at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4th and I Street SW. $5.
Saturday, March 29
Social Music, the most recent album by New Orleans pianist Jon Batiste and his band, Stay Human, includes a song called “It’s Alright (Why You Gotta)” that my four-year-old daughter loves. She walks around the house singing the chorus with a big grin. Batiste doesn’t make music for children, per se—as the album title suggests, it’s party stuff—but he does make music that’s immediately catchy and fun. Moreover, it’s music that’s both steeped in jazz tradition and accessible to anyone. For those who feel that jazz in the 21st century has lost the populist or folk-music aspects that were so crucial to its beginnings, Batiste provides the antidote. It’s surely no coincidence that he’s playing Washington Performing Arts Society’s first show at the Howard, Washington’s historic “theater of the people.” Jon Batiste and Stay Human perform at 8 p.m. at Howard Theatre, 620 T Street NW. $30.
Sunday, March 30
With the increasingly rich jam-session scene we’ve got here in the District, instrumental players have great training and polishing grounds. But what about the singers? They might sit in at the jam sessions, but the regular sessions around town don’t really fit their musical needs. Until now, that is. Rising jazz impresario Jeff Stacey is producing a vocalist’s jam session starting this week, and every Sunday hereafter, at the Black Fox Lounge in Dupont Circle. Pianist Mark Meadows, one of the city’s newest and best arrivals, will lead a house trio (with bassist Max Murray and drummer Ele Rubenstein) whose focus will be supporting vocalists…and that’s no small thing. A vocalist’s jam session is a unique experience, the aural equivalent of a gymnastics class that shows off varieties of singing colors that you never imagined could exist under the singular banner of jazz. The DC Jazz Singers Jam takes place at 5 p.m. at Black Fox Lounge, 1723 Connecticut Ave NW. Free.