As 2015 rolled on, I found plenty of live music to entertain me around town. Here's the rundown.
Roy Ayers, Vibes, Blues Alley (February 7)
Jason Marsalis, Vibes, Blues Alley (April 15)
|© John Jay Kim|
Bobby McFerrin, Vocals, The Warner Theatre (May 20)
Sting was the honoree and the event was held at Strathmore. In 2015, I attended the event at Warner Theatre not only for the main attraction, Bobby McFerrin, but also one of his special guests, Christylez Bacon. (That's him in the photo.) An alumni of the school, I first saw Christylez Bacon performing the beatbox, drums, and guitar, singing his own hip-hop songs for free at D.C.'s Downtown Holiday Market a few winters ago. Back then, his performance made all of us shoppers stop shopping and crowd around the outdoor stage to watch his show. I've been following him ever since. Known for his beatboxing, I was excited about his chance here to perform with the great Bobby McFerrin; isn't he the king of the beatboxers?
Bobby McFerrin was joined by so many other graduates and students of the school that the concert felt more like a showcase for these up-and-coming artists rather than the Bobby McFerrin greatest hits collection I was expecting. Instead, he improvised with the younger generation, noticeably giving them the thrill of their lives. All of the young performers were great, emerging talents I expect to hear from soon, but my favorite parts of this show were when Bobby McFerrin did his own thing with his amazing voice. Some things you just can't replicate. Here is a short clip of Bobby McFerrin improvising during the show with impressive graduate Maimouna Youssef.
Ginger Baker and Jazz Confusion, Drums, Howard Theatre (June 19)
Ginger Baker live for the first time in 2014. This time, he returned to the same venue with the same band, playing the same songs, and promoting the same album. With his excellent backing band, Jazz Confusion – comprised of saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, bassist Alec Dankworth, and percussionist Abbas Dodoo – this entertaining show will never get old. The odd, worldly beats and sounds filling Howard Theatre kept us bouncing in our seats. Abbas Dodoo served as the night's emcee and introduced Ginger Baker to the stage like a prize fighter. He seemed healthier than the year before (when we thought he might die on the spot at any time). Still, true to form, he greeted us with the story that he just got out of critical care after a long bout of pneumonia: "I showed up at the Pearly Gates and they sent me back, so here I am." Lucky us! Here's a snippet of Ginger Baker and Jazz Confusion performing "Footprints."
Terence Blanchard is in town, my dad and I will likely be there. We've seen him several times over the years, and he always offers something new and exciting. This time, I wasn't sure if I liked the music at first: everyone was playing their own things, heading in all sorts of directions. Eventually, though, they all came together in amazing ways. Terence Blanchard is a pro, and we're lucky to be invited to see him in action. By the end of his shows, our hair is typically blown back, and we leave in a daze. You can count on it from this guy, no matter what he plays. Here's a performance of "Magnetic" at Blues Alley in 2013.
Justin Kauflin Trio, Piano, Bohemian Caverns (September 4)
Justin Kauflin lost his sight by age 11. Given his disability, his music has a spiritual component and felt different from the other jazz shows I'd seen. I didn't have the best view of the musicians from my seat and therefore don't have many memorable moments to share. Though I didn't recognize any of the standards or original compositions they played, the Jeff Kauflin Trio was impressive, and my friends really liked the show. The supportive crowd at Bohemian Caverns was captivated, swaying and calling out at times, as if it were a rousing Sunday service. Here's the Justin Kauflin Trio performing "Be Thou my Vision."
Roy Hargrove, Trumpet, Blues Alley (October 6, 2015)
|© Robb D. Cohen|
Min Xiao-Fen, Pipa and Ruan, The Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital (October 7)
Min Xiao-Fen's upcoming show at The Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital. Despite not recognizing her and not knowing where the Hill Center was, I didn't hesitate to buy a ticket because her program was inspired by Thelonious Monk. Hearing Thelonious Monk played on traditional Chinese instruments was bound to be an interesting experience. The pipa and ruan are lute-type instruments that are positioned upright or flat on a lap and played like a harp. Min Xiao-Fen is a cool-looking lady. She wore traditional Chinese clothing and has a short punky hairstyle. When she sang in Chinese, the tones sounded crazy to me, but maybe that's just because I didn't understand the language.
For the first half of the concert, she played traditional pipa music, which was beautiful. The second half was devoted to Thelonious Monk, and I only recognized two of the songs, including "Misterioso," but they were all excellent. I loved how different her interpretation sounded on her instruments. At the end of the concert, she mentioned that she'll be back this spring to premiere a new piece of work. I'll be on the look out. Here, Min Xiao-Fen performs her take on two Thelonious Monk composition, "Misterioso" and "Ask Me Now."
The Hill Center is a great discovery! This community center, housed in the historic Old Naval Hospital, is located in the Eastern Market neighborhood and offers all sorts of events from concerts and documentary film screenings to cooking, art, and exercise classes and lectures. This concert was in a small room with three rows of folding chairs and a few side table. The stage was a step off the floor, making for a casual, intimate experience. I look forward to making more visits to this unique venue.
Kendrick Lamar, Vocals, Kennedy Center (October 20)
|© Kennedy Center|
The show opened with a fantastic acapella singing group called the Mellow Tones, comprised of students from the Duke Ellington School for the Arts. They sang standards and ended their short set with Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," which they said was a fitting song to lead into the socially conscious main attraction.
I can't claim to know everything Kendrick Lamar raps about, but I see the talent. He's an amazing performer, and this show was special. The whole crowd – full of more familiar followers – got gangsta, rapping right along with him. Adding the orchestra with his backing band made everything more dramatic and sometimes over the top, but it somehow created a perfect collaboration. I wonder if the Kennedy Center has ever been so rowdy and noisy as it became that night. They should do this more often. Congrats to Kendrick Lamar for scoring 11 Grammy nominations and winning 5 awards this year, including Best Rap Album To Pimp a Butterfly.
Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer, Bass, Sixth and I Synagogue (October 22)
Sixth and I Synagogue. I know of and have seen Christian McBride before, but Edgar Meyer was a new name to me. Wearing a white button-down shirt and tie with grey wool pants, he looked as if he had just come from a business meeting, but he plays cool. For most of this great concert, the two master bassists played together, one using a bow and one plucking with fingers. Sometimes they'd switch roles mid songs, the showoffs! (Yes, they're that good.) They also each played one song on their own: Christian McBride chose "Fly Me to the Moon" while Edgar Meyer played a Bach piece. Their version of Thelonious Monk's "Misterioso" excited me, and I was impressed by their original compositions. When I got home, by coincidence, I found in my pile of CDs an unopened bluegrass one called Appalachian Journey, which I had forgotten about and my dad had forgotten giving to me. It features Edgar Meyer in the band. Someone in the universe knew I'd become a fan eventually.
I can't find any videos of Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer performing together, but I swear this dreamy event happened! To give you an idea of how it went, here's a bass duet of "Bye Bye Blackbird" that Christian McBride performed with someone else I don't recognize. And, here is Edgar Meyer performing a bass duet with Victor Wooten back in 2008.
Jody Watley and Shalamar Reloaded, Vocals, Blues Alley (November 7)
Jody Watley – is she still singing?" I remember Jody Watley well from the '90s. Many of her songs, like "Real Love," ""Looking for a New Love," and "Don't You Want Me" were on the radio often, and I remember her videos too. I didn't know what to expect from her show at Blues Alley and wondered if she had transitioned to singing jazz standards. Unlike any other show I've attended at Blues Alley, Jody Watley's greatest hits were blasting out of the speakers when I arrived, and two life-size posters of her with her Shalamar backup singers flanked the sides of the stage. Blues Alley took on a dance club atmosphere. Typically when performers are introduced, they come downstairs from their second-floor dressing room and weave through the tables to get to the stage at the front of the room. Jody Watley and Shalamar Reloaded stopped halfway down the stairs to pose for an imaginary photo shoot.
The Blues Alley stage is pretty tiny, but once on there, Jody Watley and company really danced on it with actual choreographed steps. Aside from a different hairstyle (long braids) and being a bit older, Jody Watley seems the same as always – fashionable, confident, and full of dance moves. She brought a wardrobe with her that included sneakers to change into from her black stilettos so that she wouldn't break an ankle dancing; a coat to change up her look mid performance; and accessories, like big black-rimmed glasses, her trademark huge hoop earrings, and a sparkly black fan, which she eventually gave away to someone who asked for it in the front row: "Come find me after the show and I'll sign it for you," she said. "Then, whenever you're hot, you'll think of Jody Watley." Here's are Jody Watley and Shalamar Reloaded performing "Take That to the Bank."
Jody Watley is a sassy, classy lady and this show was so much fun. I'm not sure why she booked such a small venue, but I'll take it. She took requests and sang her hits. She walked through the crowd to greet us and shake our hands. And, she gave us great advice: "Music can change your mood. When you're down, all you have to do is just put some on, blast it, and work it!"
That's the truth.