Things to Do

4 Jazz Shows You Should See This Week: February 15-18

Your Jazz Setlist includes Kevin Sun at Twins Jazz and Sarah Hughes in the Kogod Courtyard.
Kevin Sun. Photograph by Jessica Carlton-Thomas.

Thursday, February 15

You probably know Ornette Coleman invented free jazz—both the musical concept and, with his landmark 1960 recording, the name thereof. What you may not realize, but should, is that Coleman was in fact one of the foremost melodists that American music has ever seen. One can hear it in his signature composition, “Lonely Woman,” and for that matter in all of the other tunes on the 1959 album The Shape of Jazz to Come. But there are hundreds of other examples in his catalog, even the interludes on the aforementioned Free Jazz, and in Coleman’s improvisations, which are more formal and thoughtful than they outwardly seem. DC alto saxophonist Sarah Hughes—whose first-ever concert under her own name was a program of Coleman compositions—shares the titan’s love both of rich melody and of freedom to make her own in-the-moment designs. She monumentalizes Coleman’s music in an early-evening performance with trumpeter/violinist Griffith Kazmierczak, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Nate Scheible. It begins at 5 PM at the National Portrait Gallery’s Kogod Courtyard, Eighth and F streets, Northwest. Free.

Friday, February 16

Pat Martino actually does a lot of work with horn players, but he also employs a core trio with organ and drums along with his own guitar playing. At last examination, the trio personnel included Pat Bianchi grooving on the Hammond B-3 and Carmen Intorre Jr. behind the kit. Theirs is a solid chemistry, one that brings out the sinuous smokiness of Martino’s guitar sound and gives him a substantial platform on which to craft his riffy, high-velocity improvisational lines. (As it happens, Bianchi and Intorre get off some pretty stellar improvisations of their own, too.) Still and all, what comes through—and matters—the most in the organ-jazz tradition are two prime elements: groove and soul. Those two are intimately related of course, and Martino and company have them both. Their performance begins at 8 PM at AMP by Strathmore, 11810 Grand Park Avenue in North Bethesda. $28-$38.

Saturday, February 17

February isn’t exactly the bustling midpoint of jazz festival season, is it? Well, that means there’s less competition for foot and ear traffic at the Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival, held every President’s Day weekend at the Hilton Rockville in guess-where. Depending on what your schedule allows, it may make more sense to buy longer-duration passes for the event (which is organized and presented much more like a conference, even down to scheduling the musical performances in “sessions”). But if you are able to make it to only one concert through the weekend, make it the Vibes Summit on Saturday night. The vibraphone has a particularly rich history inside the jazz tradition, beginning in the ’30s with Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo and extending through to current torch-bearers Joe Locke, Joe Doubleday, and Baltimore’s own Warren Wolf—the very three vibraphonists who happen to be meeting at the Vibes Summit. It takes place at 8:30 PM at the Ronnie Wells Main Stage of the Hilton Rockville, 1750 Rockville Pike in (oh let’s say it one more time) Rockville. $50-$80.

Sunday, February 18

The (not-so-) secret of the pianoless saxophone trio is that it doesn’t just reduce the saxophonist’s harmonic restrictions, it reduces their restrictions, period, leaving them room to run wild in any direction without bumping their heads against the walls. Tenor saxophonist Kevin Sun does a bit of that—who wouldn’t, given the chance? More often, however, he exploits the openness of his trio setting to play about with the timbre and melodic possibilities of his instrument. Or, rather, his instruments: Sun plays tenor, but also clarinet and (dig this) C-melody saxophone, an instrument rarely heard since Frank Trumbauer in the 1920s. “Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves,” Lewis Carroll wrote; Hogwash, Sun seems to say. He tends to the sounds, as do bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor, and lets the sense flow from those. The Kevin Sun Trio performs at 8 and 10 PM at Twins Jazz, 1344 U Street, Northwest. $10.

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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.