As one of the few full-time jazz guitarists in the U.S. Navy, Steve Abshire thinks he has a good deal. "It's been an experience that I've really enjoyed and do appreciate," says the Silver Spring native and 13-year Navy veteran who, for the past six years, has played in the Commodores, the Navy's crack jazz unit. "I'm tickled pink to be in the Commodores because it's r

There's another side to the Navy musician's artistic life: the opportunity to take outside gigs. Abshire regularly performs with such Washington-based artists as guitarist Charlie Byrd and singer Pam Bricker and he has worked with guitarist Herb Ellis and the Great Guitars. Not long ago he formed his own "straight-ahead, mainstream" quartet, which will be at Herndon's 5 and Dime Cafe on Friday. Chuck Redd will be at the vibraphone, John Previti on bass and John Greeley at the drums.

The combo first came together not long ago for WMAL's leukemia fund drive, Abshire says. "We played two or three tunes and had so much fun that we went into another part of the hotel and played another three hours." MAKING GREAT STRIDES It is not often that a former junior accordion champion of Great Britain makes a Washington area appearance. Not that Keith Nichols will be performing on that instrument -- or on trombone, tuba or soprano saxophone, which he plays with distinction. The multitalented Nichols (he's also an actor), Britain's preeminent ragtime and stride pianist, will be at the keyboard of a concert grand today at 2 p.m. at Jordan-Kitt's studio in Vienna. The session is sponsored by the Northern Virginia Ragtime Society. For information call (703) 791-3063.

This is not Nichols' first visit to the United States; he was band pianist and arranger for Dick Sudhalter's New Paul Whiteman Orchestra several years ago. The formats in which Nichols currently performs in his homeland include a trombone quintet, Five-a-Slide, a comedy jazz band called the Levity Lancers, the Hot Six and the Paramount Theatre Orchestra, a quartet. "I found the largest name for the smallest group," Nichols observes.