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So it’s Barack Obama‘s 50th birthday. Who cares? What’s important is that it’s Louis Armstrong‘s 110th birthday (it’s OK if you didn’t know that; Armstrong didn’t either), which means that by all rights it should be a national holiday and the nation’s capital should be throwing wild, ecstatic celebrations of probably the most important single figure in the history of American music. Alas. It’s up to you and I to pay homage to Armstrong’s legacy. Here are your best bets for doing that.
Saturday, August 6 You’ve got to hear Pete Muldoon. The guitarist and Howard University jazz student has the cleanest, roundest tone you’ve ever heard on his ax. He’s also got chops that you wouldn’t believe, fast and nimble fingers that climb over the fretboard in stunning melodic phrases, and make the changes like they were running hurdles. He’s an astonishing player. Muldoon was a weekly headliner at the late, lamented Cafe Nema on U Street NW, and also has an occasional gig in a duo with bassist Eric Wheeler at Marvin. This week, however, he leads what he himself calls “the dream band,” and it is indeed a cast of local stars: Brian Settles on sax, Allyn Johnson on piano, Zack Pride on bass, and Kush Abadey on drums. That is a winning ensemble, and you should check it out. The Pete Muldoon Quintet performs at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $20.
Sunday, August 7 It’d be easy enough to chalk up Freddy Cole‘s musical successes to his family ties: He’s Nat “King” Cole’s younger brother and Natalie’s uncle. But that won’t do. Freddy is a pianist and vocalist too, but where his famous brother became a working musician in Los Angeles right after high school, Freddy doubled down on studying his craft with a degree from Juilliard and a master’s from the New England Conservatory. And while Nat was crooning his way onto the national pop charts in the early ’50s, Freddy was touring the hard bop circuit with trumpeter Johnny Coles and saxophonist Benny Golson. In other words, we’re talking about a serious and dedicated jazz musician, not someone who coasted on the coattails of a star sibling. Coles is an extremely busy and prolific touring musician, a fine interpreter of standards (mostly love songs), and a singer with a gruff overtone. He’s also got a remarkable quartet at his disposal. So come, if you must, for the family connection; stay for the music. The Freddy Cole Quartet performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $25.
Tuesday, August 9 When fusion apparently burned itself out in the mid-to-late ’70s, there weren’t a whole lot of voices predicting it would make a big comeback 30 years hence. And yet, here we are, younger musicians taking new approaches to the melding of jazz, rock, and other musical styles, as well as paying homage to the early work of Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, et al. And with that revival comes a new iteration of one of the original movement’s most durable ensembles: Return to Forever. The band founded and led by keyboardist Chick Corea and bassist Stanley Clarke has gone through more staff changes than the cast of General Hospital, partly because so many of its members have gone on to big careers of their own (Steve Gadd, Airto Moreira, Earl Klugh). Corea and Clarke have been the only perennials, although drummer Lenny White has been around since ’73. The latest additions, though, are already-established fusion heavyweights—-French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and Australian guitarist Frank Gambale—-which turns RTF from a core fusion band to a jazz-rock supergroup. Return to Forever, mark IV, performs at 5:30 p.m. at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, Md. $20-$125.