Local Jam: Big Bands Hit Town

The Count Basie Orchestra performs tonight and tomorrow at Blues Alley; members will also teach a free master class tomorrow.
The Count Basie Orchestra performs tonight and tomorrow at Blues Alley; members will also teach a free master class tomorrow. (Kennedy Center)
Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Blues Alley Jazz Society will again give Washington a sampling of big-band jazz over the next week with more than 35 performances, a new showcase of international talent and master classes.

The third annual Big Band Jam! launched last night with performances by the famed Count Basie Orchestra (even Frank Sinatra performed with it), and there are more shows by the band tonight and tomorrow at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley. $37.75. 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-4141.

So why big band? Because it is this town's rich legacy, dating as far back as Duke Ellington's era and kept alive today by the region's collegiate and military ensembles. This particular festival launched in 2005 to mark Blues Alley's 40th anniversary.

Some highlights:

Tomorrow, catch the free master class with the Count Basie Orchestra at Grace Episcopal Church, 5-6 p.m. 1041 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

Over the next several days, each of the military bands play rare club sets at Blues Alley; best of all, they're free. Catch the U.S. Army Blues at 8 and 10 p.m. Monday; the Navy Commodores on Tuesday at 8 and 10 p.m.; and the U.S. Air Force Airmen of Note on Wednesday at 8 and 10 p.m.

One of the top picks has to be the Grammy-nominated One O'Clock Lab Band, the University of North Texas's famed jazz ensemble. You can see it play Blues Alley at 8 and 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and next Saturday ($20). Those on a budget can catch a taste at the Kennedy Center when the band plays a shorter set at the always-free Millennium Stage next Saturday at 6 p.m. 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600.

April 29, the last day of the festival, is the International Jazz Jam! at the Sylvan Theater on the Mall. It'll feature performers from seven nations, including the Netherlands, Lithuania, Poland and Austria. Free. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. 15th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.

For a full schedule and to reserve spots in the master classes and at some shows, visit http://www.bigbandjam.org.

-- Lavanya Ramanathan


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