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Jazz is Here to Stay

September 16, 2013

The jazz scene is exploding in the District right now. It is treating all of DC denizens to a bit of razz-a-ma-tazz. For those experienced and novice listeners, dcist has compiled a list of the best venues to listen.

ATLAS PERFORMING ARTS CENTER: The Atlas will launch its third jazz season this month with drummer extraordinaire Billy Hart, a D.C. native who will be leading a band in his hometown for the first time. The series, whose concerts usually take place on Wednesday evenings with some exceptions, is curated by area saxophonist Brad Linde. He has done a fantastic job of programming artists that represent jazz’s rich diversity. The surrounding neighborhood has been appropriately dubbed the Atlas District, given that the venue is a keystone of the area’s revitalization.

The Atlas Performing Arts Center is located at 1333 H Street NE.

THE BETHESDA BLUES & JAZZ SUPPER CLUB: One of the more recent additions to the local jazz scene, the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club is a first-class venue where no expense has been spared. Beautiful decor, an amazing sound system, excellent food and up to 500 seats fill this historic art deco building that was constructed in 1938 as the Bethesda Theatre. The vision came from local real estate magnate Ron Brown, who wanted to create a classic, Copacabana-style supper club. Local acts take the stage during the week while more well-known acts come through on weekends. An evening spent here can be pricey, depending on the featured performer and especially if you decide to have dinner and drinks, but it’s an experience worth having.

The Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club is located at 7719 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, Md.

BLUES ALLEY: Blues Alley, literally housed in an alley, one block south of the M Street drag, has the most name recognition of any club in D.C. For decades it was the go-to club in the District, but competition and economics have changed that of late. Increasingly, many nights are devoted to smooth jazz, which is all well and good if that’s your thing, but that doesn’t mean that fantastic artists have stopped coming to the club. For example, pioneering vibraphonist Gary Burton is on tour to celebrate his 70th birthday and he will be onstage with his current group on Thursday and Friday. D.C.’s own Frédéric Yonnet will play on Saturday and Sunday.

Blues Alley is located at 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW.

BOHEMIAN CAVERNS: If you live in D.C. and can’t get enough live jazz, then make Bohemian Caverns your home-away-from-home. The Caverns’ proprietor, Omrao Brown, has re-established the historic club as the District’s best. First opened in 1926 as the Crystal Caverns, the room has hosted the likes of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and a who’s who of jazz icons. Brown’s programming includes NEA Jazz Masters, exciting local acts who serve month long stints as Artists-in-Residence and edgier sounds as part of its Sundays @ 7 series. Those new to jazz should stop by the club on Monday nights, where the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra offers two sets of music for just $10. The 17-piece band used to be a hidden gem, but not anymore, for it packs the place out on a regular basis.

Bohemian Caverns is located in the basement at 2001 11th Street NW.

BOSSA BISTRO & LOUNGE: While its weekends are dedicated to salsa bands downstairs and DJs upstairs, the Bossa Bistro & Lounge features an eclectic range of improvisational music on its off nights. Co-owner and guitarist Rob Coltun favors groups that combine the spontaneity of jazz with an international flavor. Exploratory artists like Janel & Anthony, John Lee, Matt Rippetoe and Joe Herrera have often graced the stage at Bossa.

The Bossa Bistro & Lounge is located at 2463 18th Street NW.

CHEZ BILLY:This Petworth bistro is not a dedicated jazz club, but Chez Billy does host two regular series that are important to the local music community. The first is CapitalBop’s monthly Jazz Loft, which presents the city’s finest in a setting where they are free to stretch out. We reported about the second in last week’s jazz roundup. in which pianist Chris Grasso presents a rotating group of the area’s best vocalists.

Chez Billy is located at 3815 Georgia Avenue NW.

HR-57: HR-57 struggled a bit to find its footing when the management decided to shift locations from 14th Street NW to H Street NE. Now things seem a bit more settled. The club still offers weekly jam sessions for aspiring musicians or those who wishing to see the process behind artists developing their sound. On weekends it hosts a rotating cast of regular performers with the occasional touring act like ELEW or Chuchito Valdes. The relaxed, unpretentious and genuine atmosphere is a good reason to pay a visit to the club.

HR-57 is located at 1007 H Street NE.

JAZZ NIGHT IN SOUTHWEST: The Westminster Presbyterian Church has hosted the weekly Jazz Night in Southwest for over a decade. In past years, the lineup consisted of older musicians who played in the classic style of the ’40s, ’50’s and ’60s. However, as they retire from the stage, younger players are taking their place. Still, this isn’t where one goes to hear the latest fusion guitarist. The focus is on local performers who perform straight-ahead and mainly acoustic jazz. The church also has a blues counterpart, Blue Monday Blues. Each performance costs only $5, which isn’t a bad deal at all.

The Westminster Presbyterian Church is located at 400 Eye Street SW.

THE KENNEDY CENTER: The late Billy Taylor established the Kennedy Center as a jazz destination during his tenure as Artistic Advisor for Jazz. The Center received universal applause when it named Jason Moran to the role after Taylor’s passing, and Moran has not disappointed. Moran had a vision of not only showcasing every facet of jazz through his programming, but also using the Kennedy Center’s vast facilities to present jazz in unexpected ways. This season includes legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal, the annual Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival and keyboardist Robert Glasper, who is at the vanguard of the nu-jazz movement.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2700 F Street NW.

WINS JAZZ: The opening of Twins Jazz marked the start of U Street’s renaissance as a hub for live music, particularly live jazz. Named for its owners, twin Ethiopian sisters Kelly and Maize Tesfaye, the club mainly features the best among local musicians, but regularly brings in up-and-coming artists from New York and Philly. Twins also prides itself in providing a stage for talented young musicians-in-training who are still in high school or college.

Twins Jazz is located at 1344 U Street NW.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: This list is hardly comprehensive and just the tip of the iceberg. Larger rooms such as those at Strathmore, any of the local universities, The Howard Theatre, or The Hamilton also feature jazz performers. Then there are restaurant/bars like Jojo’s, Ulah Bistro, Columbia Station and the Black Fox Lounge that have jazz nights. The region also boasts a number of festivals, such as the DC Jazz Festival, the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, the Washington Women in Jazz Festival and others. Plus, you can’t forget the gallery space or museum that will have the one-off or monthly event. And for those wondering, Jazz in the Garden did not make this list because we choose to call it what it is: Getting-Sloshed-on-Sangria-Whilst-Jazz-Plays-in-the-Background in the Garden.

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