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Friday, April 15: It’s not a stretch to call Ben Williams the pride of the current D.C. jazz scene. A native of Michigan Park, Williams grew up playing bass with the District’s own Jolley Brothers, worked with Thad Wilson and Paul Carr, and studied with Michael Bowie and the Ellington School of the Arts’ Carolyn Kellock before moving on first to Michigan State University, then to Juilliard. The whole scene celebrated when he won the 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition for bass, and people now boast excitedly about having worked with him or taught him in the past. It’s no wonder: At the Monk finals, Williams (like the other finalists) had to demonstrate his skill by accompanying the great singer Dee Dee Bridgewater; the ease with which he followed her, completely unfazed by her harmonic liberties and surprise turns, made it clear he was walking away with the title. Williams’ prize included a recording contract with the Concord Jazz label; the result, State of Art, drops in June. Meantime Williams and his hip-hop-infected band Sound Effect are one of the Kennedy Center’s “Discovery Artists” this season. Williams performs at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.M at the KC Jazz Club, 2700 F St. NW. $16.
Saturday, April 16: The foremost qualities of Gretchen Parlato’s artistry are her breathy gentleness and sensuality—she doesn’t sing so much as she insinuates. She’s got soul, wiles, confidence, and wisdom baked into that soft delivery, but no matter what other elements you may find in there, it’s indisputable that she sounds like no one else working in jazz today. Parlato is, in fact, arguably the emblematic jazz vocalist of her generation, and perhaps the most visionary to come along in a generation: Her breakthrough album, 2009’s In A Dream, was greeted with wild acclaim and her brand new The Lost and Found is set to parallel the former’s achievement. Take none of this praise lightly; go see her. Gretchen Parlato and her quartet perform at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $25.
Monday, April 18: Every glance at the musical tapestry reveals a richer jazz legacy coming from Puerto Rico. Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri put the island on the jazz map in the ’50s and ’60s; Miguel Zenon explores its traditional musics in the ’10s. But in between, in the early ’90s, trombonist William Cepeda dug deep and formulated the field known as “Afro-Rican jazz”; it’s an approach that puts Puerto Rico and its music, past and present, into context within the African diaspora. For Cepeda, a veteran of Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, it’s the launchpad for an unending series of explorations and experiments in the intersections of Puerto Rico, America, Africa, and the world. The 2002 film El Trombone de Bomba, William Cepeda’s Jazz is an insightful examination of the man, his art, and his international status; the film follows him back and forth between New York, where Cepeda is regarded as a shrewd musical innovator, and the “Little Africa” region of Puerto Rico, where he is a cultural treasure. The film screens at 7 p.m. at the Library of Congress’ Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE. Free.
Wednesday, April 20
What’s left to say about Phil Woods? Eighty years old this November, Woods has been a force on the national jazz scene for nearly 60 of those years, and was part of the last wave of straight-up bebop musicians. Woods’ real accomplishment has been dodging the humongous shadow of Charlie Parker—-this despite the fact that he plays Parker’s instrument, the alto sax; plays Parker’s milieu, bebop; was at one time dubbed “the new Bird,” Parker’s nickname; and married Chan, Parker’s widow. How can you do everything possible to be compared to Bird and still get away with being yourself? By carving out a distinct sound that becomes completely iconic for your instrument. Woods’ moment in the pop spotlight came in 1977 when he played on Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” fixing him forever in dentist’s offices and elevators all across the world—-but also establishing him as most of America’s idea of what an alto saxophone sounds like. Truthfully, though, he’s a blindingly brilliant technician with a fascinating imagination, which is how he became an NEA Jazz Master, and why you should trek down to his 8 and 10 p.m. sets at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $45