Jazz Setlist, December 15-21: Triumphant Returns
Friday, December 16
Last year, when Bohemian Caverns brought Benny Golson, one of those octogenarian jazz musicians who's achieved unquestionable living legend status, onto its venerable little bandstand, I wrote that the club had scored "an enormous coup....If you miss this, folks, you're doing it wrong and that's that." Which was true. Golson is one of three musicians (the others being Horace Silver and Wayne Shorter) who currently vie for the crown of Most Important Living Jazz Composer. And neither of the others have Golson's track record for making standards: "Blues March," "Whisper Not," "Stable Mates," "I Remember Clifford," "Along Came Betty," and—this writer's favorite—"Killer Joe" all come from his pen. As a tenor saxophonist, Golson is perhaps not quite as accomplished, but consider how relative that is. He's got a smooth, creamy tone and a deep love for the blues and for luscious, memorable melody that comes through in his improvisation as surely as it does in his tunes. And here's the real coup: The Caverns got him to come back. He's not a cameo on their roster; he's now a regular player. But that's no excuse to miss him now. Golson performs at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th Street NW. $35.
Saturday, December 17
It is always a joy to report that Jane Monheit is in town. The beautiful Long Island native channels the cadence and melodic command of her hero, Ella Fitzgerald, but adds the sultry mood to it that Ella never had. This writer first saw Monheit perform at Blues Alley in 2001, when she was 24; one of the pleasures of following jazz has been watching her mature as an artist in those ten years. Her virtuosity is as crystalline and confident as ever, and she's not above the occasional vocal acrobatic, but she's shed her early penchant for melodrama and settled into a soft, knowing subtlety that lets the song speak for itself. And yet she's still ascending to her artistic heights —so greater things are coming. It's an astonishing realization, considering how good she is right now. Jane Monheit performs at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, 2700 F St. NW. $45.
Sunday, December 18
Sunday night isn't usually a powerhouse for jazz, even locally. This week, though, there are two competing great acts just a few short blocks from each other. It's tempting to toss a coin on this pick; fortunately, it's not necessary. Both artists have two sets, and are inexpensive enough that you can see both with ease of transit and wallet.
The Jolley Twins, pianist Noble and drummer Nate, are very young cats who nonetheless have cemented their place as major staples (together and separately) of jazz in the District. Skilled technicians with enormous reserves of soul at their disposal, both are top-call sidemen around town for visiting big names and homegrown talents alike. When they're together and under their own name, however, something very special happens; every trope you hear about the chemical bond that twins share seems proven true in the uncanny camaraderie and sensitivity between them. They also share a solid ambition, employing a string quartet for their Sunday performance along with their trio partner, crack bassist Kris Funn. Oh...and did we mention the vocalist joining them? That would be Christie Dashiell, the extraordinary contralto who achieved national recognition as a frontliner for Afro-Blue on NBC's The Sing-Off. This is billed as a Christmas concert, but "extravaganza" is probably a far more accurate term. The Jolley Brothers and company perform at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns. $15.
But you should go to the first set. Then to the second set of this one:
John Kocur has long been acknowledged as arguably the city's finest alto saxophonist. He's got a swaggering, hard-edged but pliable tone, a blues suffusion that'll knock you off your feet, and a sense of swing that's both surefire and unpredictable. He's also got a marvelous versatility that made him both the star soloist in the late Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra, and a favorite sideman and sitter-in with bands, soloists, and otherwise-jazz-ical situations of all stripes. But Kocur also teaches music at NOVA, a busy job that's kept him sidelined from playing out. That makes this a comeback show, and it's a stellar one—Kocur's quartet features great players, including another until-recently sidelined musician, bassist Kevin Pace, and the set promises to feature almost all new tunes. It's a comeback in style. The John Kocur Quartet performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins, 1344 U Street NW. $10.