Things to Do

4 Jazz Shows to See Around DC This Week: March 8-14

Your Jazz Setlist includes Jason Moran at the Phillips Collection and Amy Bormet returning to DC.
Jason Moran.

Thursday, March 8

One of the coolest programming ideas that the DC Jazz Festival has concocted is its “Jazz in the Gallery” series—in which musicians hit the Phillips Collection, not playing sets in the music room but wandering the exhibit rooms and improvising in response to the pieces they encounter. The Phillips Collection apparently agrees that it’s a neat idea; so does Jason Moran, the pianist/composer who’s the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz. So much do they both appreciate the concept, in fact, that they are joining forces to devise a variation on it. Moran is performing an improvised musical response to a full, specific exhibition—it’s called Ten American Artists After Klee, and, um, it features ten American artists whose work is influenced by that of Swiss modernist artist Paul Klee. Logistics suggest that a Fender Rhodes or other electric keyboard will be involved; the keyboard used will absolutely not diminish its quality. Jason Moran performs at 5:30 PM at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street, Northwest. Free.

Friday, March 9

What do you call a guy whose father was a professional jazz pianist; who himself took piano lessons as a kid with Roberta Flack; who by then had already discovered that he was actually a drummer at heart; who studied at Howard University under Donald Byrd and was a founding member of the legendary jazz musician’s Blackbyrds fusion band; and who since then has been a major drummer, equally conversant in both funk and straightahead jazz and frequently blending the two? Well, you call him what you may, but here in DC we call such a person Keith Killgo. He leads a raging septet (including trumpeter Thad Wilson and saxophonist Grant Langford) that navigates three tributaries to Killgo’s musical stream: Art Blakey, the drummer who first inspired Killgo to learn the instrument; Joe Henderson, the saxophonist with whom he first toured; and the JFK Quintet, the great early-1960s DC combo in which Killgo’s father, Harry, played piano. They play at 9 and 11 PM at Twins Jazz, 1344 U Street, Northwest. $15.

Saturday, March 10

The Washington Women in Jazz Festival is one of the city’s most valuable commodities, and one that has had surprising influence across the country. Its founder and chair, pianist Amy Bormet, has long since moved across the country to Los Angeles (which might have something to do with her influence outside the District, though her ideas are too big for one city no matter where she lives). But she comes back every March to celebrate National Women’s Month with some astonishing musicians. Among the showcases that happen during the month, it’s hard to top one that highlights the great female jazz composers from Lil Armstrong and Mary Lou Williams to Roxy Coss and Bormet herself, led by the wonderful trombonist Shannon Gunn. She brings with her a quintet that features Coss, Bormet, bassist Karine Chapdelaine, and drummer Isabel De Leon (a onetime winner of WWJF’s Young Talent competition and an unbelievably deft musician). They perform at 6 PM in the basement of the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and G Streets, Northwest. Free.

Wednesday, March 14

Born in Pittsburgh and residing for stretches in Chicago and Detroit—a tri-city of middle American jazz cities—pianist/organist Bill Heid also put in time in New York and Los Angeles. He is now (has been for many years now, actually) a hardworking musician about this town. Heid has had as rich and busy a career on the blues scenes in those abovementioned cities. Hear him play one bar and you’ll know that that’s no accident. The jazz he plays is heavy on groove and has the deepest reservoir of blues tonality, flavor, and feeling you’ll ever hear on the organ this side of the Jimmys, Smith and McGriff. Those groove titans are gone; Heid’s still here, still playing, and still steeped in the good stuff. Don’t let him get past you. Bill Heid performs at 6 PM at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, 2813 Franklin Street, Northeast. $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.