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First, a note: While Dave Brubeck‘s four-night stand at Blues Alley is the biggest show in town this week, it’s sold out for every show. So let’s talk about stuff we can all go see.
Friday, April 16
Two Washington jazz institutions converge herein. Thad Wilson remains a nonstop powerhouse in our fair city; he keeps busiest these days as a teacher at GW, and in the meantime composes, leads bands large and small, and works the clubs with his gorgeous, Woody Shaw-influenced trumpet sound. While his Ugetzu Big Band is re-formed and working, this week belongs to his quintet. Wilson is joined by Zach Graddy (tenor sax), Hope Udobi (piano), Kent Miller (bass), and Kermit Walker (drums) in a gig for the other DC institution: Jazz Night in Southwest, the weekly Friday night gathering at Westminster Presbyterian Church with great food and even better music. Westminster is at 4th and I Streets SW. $5 (free for children under 16).
Saturday, April 17
Speaking of convergences, Maryland Opera Studio has fused its specialty with ours—jazz—in the creation of ots brand new piece, Shadowboxer, an opera based on the life and career of boxing great Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis. Written by Frank Proto (music) and John Chenault (libretto), Shadowboxer is an incredibly ambitious production. In addition to sets by award-winning designer Erhard Rom and large video screens functioning throughout the program, it features a full orchestra in the pit along with an eight-piece jazz ensemble onstage, complementing a 15-member cast and 12-member vocal chorus. The Saturday night performance marks its world premiere: 7:30 pm at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Ina and Jack Kay Theatre, University of Maryland Campus. $32 for the general public, $9 for students.
Monday, April 19
You’ve read about it; you’ve talked about it; you’ve waited for it. The debut performance of the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra is finally here. The new house big band for what has become DC’s finest jazz venue will hold court every Monday night, led by trumpeter Joe Herrera and baritone saxophonist Brad Linde. Reports from their rehearsals to this point highlight pieces from the Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, and Maria Schneider—and promise that “you’ve never heard a band like this in DC before. Prepare to have your socks knocked off.” This writer will be on hand to listen and review, but you don’t have to take my word for it. The BCJO performs at 8:30 and 10:30 at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 Eleventh Street NW. $5.
Wednesday, April 21
Here in the Duke’s hometown, we may downplay the importance of that other big band of Ellington’s day: the Count Basie Orchestra. Coming out of Kansas City in the mid-’30s with a bluesy, riff-based sounds and loose arrangements that depended more on improvisation than complex orchestrations, Basie’s band revolutionized both the rhythms and the very concept of swing. It also served as a breeding ground for some of the most important musicians in history, with Basie a formidable talent scout: among his alums were Lester Young, Jo Jones, Billie Holiday, and Buddy Rich. Though the Count died in 1984, his Orchestra has continued, still composed (mostly) of Basie’s handpicked talent and charging through his swinging charts—a sound worth hearing and seeing. The Count Basie Orchestra performs at 8 and 10 pm at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $60.