When James King first set foot in Washington’s jazz ecosystem, back in 1977, he was quick to point his ears toward the deans of the scene — Keter Betts and Butch Warren among them. Four decades later, the veteran bassist says he’s still learning from his elders, as well as his juniors and peers. “Jazz [in D.C.] is always evolving, always changing colors,” King says. “I’ve always tried to keep up while moving along at my own pace.”
That paradoxical pace remains steady. In addition to appearing regularly with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, King continues to gig around town tenaciously, and here’s some holly-jolly proof of his zealous work ethic: He’ll be holding down this year’s Christmas Day jam session at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage for the umpteenth December in a row.
But before then, this Sunday night, King will move to the center of the stage at Alice’s Cultural and Jazz Society to lead a quartet that includes pianist Allyn Johnson, guitarist Donato Soviero and one of King’s most spirited and simpatico collaborators, drummer Nasar Abadey.
As a bandleader, King says he’s primarily concerned with “the shape of the set, your highs and lows, your fasts and slows.” But as a bassist, he is always working to clarify the expressive ideas that form beneath his fingertips. “Anytime you see me, I’m trying to do my job coherently,” King says. “I need to say what I need to say in a very coherent way.”