Things to Do

3 Jazz Shows to See Around DC This Week: January 20-24

Your Jazz Setlist for the week includes Joey DeFrancesco at Blues Alley.
Joey DeFrancesco. Photograph by Thomas Faivre-Duboz, via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, January 20

It’s no exaggeration to call Joey DeFrancesco the most visible jazz organist of the past 30 years. Thirty years ago, in fact, organ jazz had gone out of fashion with the rise of the Young Lions’ acoustic neo-bop. But in its zeal to find the next young jazz star, Columbia Records found this 17-year-old from Philadelphia and let him put the greasy Hammond sound of Jimmy Smith (DeFrancesco’s hero) back on the map. That was in 1988, and in 2018 he’s still going strong. In additior to the Jimmy Smith tradition, he has a strong portfolio in jazz fusion, working with Miles Davis and John McLaughlin. DeFrancesco also plays the trumpet, and indeed will often play it one-handed, while still sitting at the organ and smashing out chords. If he’s got the highest profile among organ jazz musicians, well, who can blame him? Joey DeFrancesco performs at 8 and 10 PM at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue, Northwest. $30.

Tuesday, January 23

I don’t want to blow any minds here, but it turns out that those other countries where they play jazz? They have their own big names and even stars there! In fact, sometimes there are even players from those countries who create an international profile—except in America, where we’ve never heard of them. One of the foremost among those is the tenor saxophonist Igor Butman. Butman is the Wynton Marsalis of Russia, and if those words sound strange to American ears be sure that people from other European countries would read them and nod in agreement. But since his ownership of popular clubs, engagement with festivals and educational programs, high media profile in Moscow, and status as one of his country’s foremost cultural ambassadors will have little meaning to us here, let’s talk about his sound instead. Butman has a smoky tenor tone, a husky edge that he retains even as he moves into higher registers on the horn (which also frequently returns to the low register as punctuation). He’s not a heavy user of space, which means that his many, many ideas frequently come one on top of the other, so many in any chorus that counting said choruses is to completely miss the point. He’s an aggressive full-frontal assault of a player, and perhaps that’s necessary. America brought jazz to the world, and now the world—in this case with Butman as its representative—will not be ignored. The Igor Butman Quintet performs at 8 PM at Bethesda Blues & Jazz, 7719 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. $25.

Wednesday, January 24

Sarah Hughes’s determined strides into the realm of free improvisation don’t signify a departure from song structure. Hughes’s first ever concert as a leader was a program of Ornette Coleman tunes; that certainly suggests a very particular trajectory. But it’s easy to forget that Coleman is a tunesmith of the first order, one of the most melodic composers the jazz lineage has ever produced in fact. And if he was never entirely comfortable with tonality, he never quite abandoned it either, often framing his tunes in blues and blues-like structures and dipping into that same well frequently for his free improvisations. This is not to compare Hughes, though she is another alto saxophonist, too heavily to Coleman—only that she also retains her ear for and love of pretty and durable compositions. That’s why she’s assembled what she calls her Sing Song Trio, with bassist Steve Arnold and drummer Jack Kilby. Songs are the order of the day, including standards and some more recent tunes you might recognize. But just to let you know that she isn’t entirely abandoning her experimental edge, either, Hughes intriguingly promises “a very ‘out’ version of ‘The Candy Man Can.’” Wow. The Sarah Hughes Sing Song Trio performs at 7 p.m. at Sotto, 1610 14th Street, Northwest (in the basement). Free.

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Michael J. West is a jazz journalist and critic who lives in DC. He began contributing to Washingtonian in 2017. He is also a contributor to the Washington Post, Washington City Paper, JazzTimes, and Downbeat. His work has appeared in Slate, the Village Voice, Bandcamp, and NPR.org.