Jazz Setlist, April 24-30: Return of the Son of JazzApril
Thursday, April 24
Since the mid '90s, there's really been one predominant figure on the jazz piano: Brad Mehldau. "Predominant" is not to say that he's the greatest pianist going (though he's certainly up there), but certainly he's the most visible and influential of his generation. Jazz educators tell of a decade meeting legions of young piano students, all of them arriving at conservatory trying to sound like Brad Mehldau. Little surprise. Mehldau combines the sounds of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, two of the most lyrical and atmospheric (and similarly influential) piano players of the last 50 years, and blends that combination with his own heavy touch, idiosyncratic approach to composition, and refreshing interpretations of jazz standards and rock songs (most famously, his takes on the oeuvre of Radiohead). He also leads an exemplary and long-lived trio, with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, that works wonders. They perform at 8 p.m. at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, and if I have to give you the address of that one, then you wouldn't be able to find it anyway. $35.
Photo: Michael Wilson
Friday, April 25
My favorite composer in the jazz idiom (and probably any other) is Charles Mingus. Mingus had the ambitious scope of Duke Ellington, and perhaps beyond–he was completely comfortable and conversant in the longer-form, classically inspired works that Ellington sometimes struggled with. (Mingus was deeply knowledgeable in classical music, and in the beginning phase of his career was a part of what would become known as the "Third Stream" movement of composition.) But in the early days, when critics and colleagues suggested he'd pursued this music at the expense of the African-American aesthetic, he responded with swing so hard, and blues and gospel and gutbucket so deep, that the critics were silenced. (And Mingus added them to his long-form palette.) That's without taking his multicultural explorations into account. But Mingus was also a brilliant bassist, of course, and so it's fitting that another brilliant bassist—Michael Bowie—leads the week's all-star tribute to Mingus with trumpeter Thad Wilson, trombonist Paul Carr, saxophonist Paul Carr, pianist Andrew Adair, and drummer Lenny Robinson. They play beginning at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4th and I Streets NW. $5.
Monday, April 28
It's one of the most delightful annual traditions here in D.C., beautifully timed to coincide with the end of Jazz Appreciation Month (or JazzApril) and Duke Ellington's 115th birthday on the 29th: the Calvin Jones Big Band Jazz Festival, the springtime summit of the D.C. area's university big band ensembles. Allyn Johnson directs UDC's Jazz Ensemble (for whose founder the festival is named); Fred Irby III directs the Howard University Jazz Ensemble; and Chris Vadala directs the University of Maryland Jazz Ensemble. All of them are gloriously swinging bands with a firm command of the repertoire, offering spectacular glimpses of the city's rising jazz talents (such as the remarkable Steven Garrison of the Howard ensemble). There aren't very many good reasons to sleep on this one. The Calvin Jones Big Band Jazz Festival takes place at 8 p.m. at UDC's University Auditorium-Theatre of the Arts (Building 46 West), 4200 Connecticut Avenue NW. $20.
Wednesday, April 30
It's been a busy few weeks for Nasar Abadey. The dean of D.C. jazz drummers celebrated his birthday last week in a bash at Blues Alley with his band Supernova, played a gig backing Andrew White and Bob Mintzer at the same club, and played another Supernova gig at Smalls in Manhattan. We haven't seen his chamber orchestra iteration of Supernova in quite a while, but Jason Moran wants us to. The jazz piano star and Kennedy Center artistic advisor for jazz has apparently made a special request for an International Jazz Day performance by Abadey and his 10-piece ensemble, which puts into practice the musical concept that the drummer refers to as "Multi-D" (because it is both multidirectional and multidimensional). It's wondrous music and it's being performed without even so much as a door charge. Nasar Abadey's Supernova Chamber Orchestra performs at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, 2700 F Street NW. Free.