It's the midnight hour, and inside Woodie's Hilltop Pub on Georgia Avenue the audience calls for a solo. So the bass and piano players nod, their finger tips disengage, and the sax and trumpet players graciously slide to the side as they give the drummer some.
Philly Joe Jones takes his cue. Pop. Ziddap, Bap. Shobedobop. His bass drum thunders as swish sticks turn cymbals into oceanic waves.
"I love it," a woman screams, her bobbing head seemingly connected to the drummer's foot pedal.
Philly Joe responds. Pop. Ziddap. Wham. Bam. Then he winks at her with a thank-you-ma'am smile in his eye. Now other band members chime in, creating a maelstrom of music that sweeps the spellbound room.
From the corner of the club, host Mickey Lewis shouts ecstatically, "Jazz is back -- and it's back uptown, where it's supposed to be."
Watch out, Georgetown, and step back, One Step Down. The last time jazz was played like this, the Duke and the Count were working Seventh and U streets. Now Georgia Avenue, that much maligned and often forgotten strip that runs through the heart of the city, is alive and kicking again.
"Jazz downtown is too sterile for me," Lewis said, over the tinkle of cocktail glasses and jazz house chatter. "I wanted something more relaxed, with the kind of spontaneity that jazz is all about."
"It's more like a Harlem atmosphere, a cultural thing," said John Malachi, a premier jazz pianist who also plays at Woodie's. "Its more down to earth than the downtown clubs."
Once a bustling row of black nightclubs known as the "Chitterlin' Circuit" during the 1940s and '50s, the strip of Georgia Avenue near U Street took a sudden dive after the riots of 1968. Jazz artists headed for Georgetown, where the price of shows was prohibitive for many fans, and a staid, restrictive atmosphere prevailed.
But when Woodie's opened last summer as a jazz house at 2718 Georgia Ave., much had changed, including a major revitalization of the U Street area a few blocks south of the club. A combination of good food and lower-than-usual prices was part of the reason that the room filled up immediately.
But the big draw was the artists themselves, most of them original jazz giants such as Charlie Rouse, James Moody, Junior Cook and Jackie McLean, along with such local jazz giants as Reuben Brown and Dunbar High bandmaster Fred Williams.
"Before there was Max Roach, there was Philly Joe, the master drummer," said Mary Jefferson, a jazz vocalist who frequents Woodie's. "We're talking about old names whose music is as fresh as it was the day they created it."
"There is a feeling of being back in 'Birdland,' " said Chips Bayen, who books entertainment for Woodie's. "We have all races, all backgrounds, brought together by an appreciation of what is happening on the music stand."
And what is happening is pure creativity, bursts of energy and expressiveness that can never be duplicated. It is vocally oriented music, and the jazz musicians replace their voices with their instruments, recreating a singing style and blue notes with scooping, sliding, whining and growling falsetto effects.
"Have mercy," a man shouts, rising to his feet and slapping his knees as Junior Cook and Webster Young finish their opening rendition of Charlie Yardbird Parker's composition "Confirmation," which only the pros will even attempt to play. Having confirmed their greatness, the musicians continue into the early hours of the morning. By 3 a.m., all but the hardcore jazz aficionados are gone.
Suddenly a man from the audience heads for the piano, and another goes for the drums. And as dawn approaches, jazz on Georgia Avenue lives to see a new day.