Things to Do

4 Jazz Shows to See This Week: March 3-7

Your Jazz Setlist this week features Michael Weiss at the Arts Club of Washington and the Mingus Big Band at Kennedy Center.
Michael Weiss plays the Arts Club of Washington on Monday.

Saturday, March 3

When bassist Charles Mingus passed away in January 1979, he left behind an astounding body of music. His widow, Sue Mingus, was not about to that work lie dormant. The 14-piece Mingus Big Band is the second of three repertory ensembles Sue assembled for her late husband’s oeuvre. It’s also the largest and very likely the best. The group’s onstage membership rotates players from a wide pool of extraordinary musicians (including among others pianist Orrin Evans, trombonist Kuumba Frank Lacy, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, and saxophonist Vincent Herring). Shifting personnel, however, has not stopped a number of critics from calling them the best and hippest big band working in jazz today. Why don’t you be the judge of that? The Mingus Big Band performs at 7 and 9 PM at the Kennedy Center’s KC Jazz Club, 2700 F Street, Northwest. $45.

Sunday, March 4

It still seems to be a well-kept secret somehow that the bassist in a jazz band is the real timekeeper. Let Buster Williams obliterate the secrecy once and for all. The veteran bassman—whose nearly-sixty-year career got its start upon his high school graduation, when he scored a gig with Gene Ammons—has a curious, astounding ability to tweak his beat. He can lead it, stay on top of it, or trail it, depending on what the situation calls for (and who his drummer is). Yet he never leaves any doubt as to who is calling the rhythmic shots, thanks to his dark, heavy sound on the upright. How does he do it? “A magician,” said one colleague to whom I asked that question. “And a monster.” He is both, and there’s no better way to know it than to see him with other rhythmic monsters like the ones in his Something More quartet. This weekend that includes pianist George Colligan, drummer Lenny White, and, on Sunday, vibraphonist Stefon Harris. They perform at 8 PM at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue, Northwest. $35.

Monday, March 5

If you haven’t seen it already, take a gander at Michael Weiss’s résumé. He’s played piano behind saxophonists Johnny Griffin, Jimmy Heath, Charles McPherson, and Frank Wess, as well as trumpeter Art Farmer and two world-class big bands (the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and DC’s own Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra). That pack of experience would speak for itself—but I intensely dislike when jazz writers talk about who someone’s played with but never about what they sound like. To the point, then: Weiss has a beautiful, full, round sound to his piano notes, and a polished sheen to his straightahead phrases that belie how hard he works behind the keys. That last, you can hear in the array of subtle harmonic devices he applies to his changes, his turnarounds, and sometimes in unexpected interjections to his individual lines. Weiss has mighty swing, too, and a deceptively strong feel for the blues by way of Thelonious Monk, a pianist you wouldn’t at first blush associate with him. (But go back to the above note about his harmonic devices.) It’s enough that he’s powerful on his own, even without a rhythm section. Which is how you’ll hear him this night. Michael Weiss performs at 7 PM at the Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I Street, Northwest. $15-$30.

Wednesday, March 7

The 2017 edition of the Jazzies named young DC drummer Tyler Leak as a rising star on the scene. “The young drummer…has an aura of joy in his craft that evokes New York great Brian Blade,” it said, “and Leak seems to be in pursuit of Blade’s imagination and precision as well. He’s gaining on it.” That goes double for the imagination part. Leak channels his considerable youthful energy into interesting textural ideas, smart subdivisions, and a melodic sensibility so complete that you could happily sit through a solo drum concert by him and never feel like you’d missed a thing. Of course, having now built that up, I’m embarrassed to tell you that Tyler Leak is not currently doing a solo drum concert. He is, instead, heading up an electric trio that includes two splendid DC musicians: pianist Hope Udobi and bassist Eliot Seppa. In other words, three rising stars making music together. They perform at 7 PM at Sotto, 1610 14th Street, Northwest (downstairs). Free–but order something!

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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.