Pharoah Sanders!

Well, Fellow Travelers, when I started this LiveJazz Journey in April, I promised you a bonus visit or two to my hometown of Washington, DC, where my journey with this music we call jazz began. Little did I know that I’d be returning there so soon, but I absolutely could not pass up the chance to see the iconic tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. My introduction to Pharoah Sanders came via WPFW Radio almost 30 years ago. One of the music programmers there, Bro. Hodari Ali, played You’ve Got to Have Freedom as his theme song. Wow…Wow…Wow! It was unlike anything I had heard up ‘til then. Sanders’ contrasted nimble, full-toned playing with dissonant honking. The driving melody and spare lyrical content combined to create an anthem that still rings true to me (you’ve got to have freedom…you’ve got to have peace and love…).

In the early 1960’s, Little Rock, Arkansas-born Ferrell Sanders moved to New York City from Oakland, California, where he had begun his professional career. He performed for a time with the omniversal pianist/composer/bandleader Sun Ra, who is credited with providing him a home and his nickname. In 1965, Sanders teamed up with kindred spirit and fellow tenor player John Coltrane. Throughout the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s as his approach to music continued to evolve, Sanders worked with a number of phenomenal musicians who were taking the music into a decidedly soulful spiritual direction. Among them were Alice Coltrane, Leon Thomas, Lonnie Liston Smith and Cecil McBee.

Fast forward to last week, when the venerable Grammy-winner enjoyed a three-day, six show engagement at D.C.’s Bohemian Caverns. Lucky me, I caught the very last show on Saturday night (Sept. 15th). Sanders did not disappoint. Though a bit older and grayer, he still plays with energy and verve. His multi-generational quartet included strong sidemen: William Henderson on piano, Eric Wheeler on bass, and John Lamkin on drums. Baltimore-based flutist Delandria Mills joined the group on stage at one point and by the end of the show Sanders was getting down, partying; no doubt inspired by the standing-room-only audience’s rousing cries for an encore and a local blues singer’s spontaneous tribute. A memorable time was had by all. Enjoy the slideshow, Fellow Travelers, and go out and see some live jazz!

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P.S. So, yeah, it’s been a while since I touched base with you Fellow Travelers. I have to say, I had a pretty eventful summer. I look forward to sharing it all with you in the coming weeks. And, hey, hit me back; let me know what you’ve been up to. Peace & luv ‘til next time.

CORRECTION: Fellow Travelers, when I first wrote this post, I misidentified Pharoah Sanders’s drummer. He is John Lamkin, not John Hampton. Thanks, Sara.

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BCJO Update

WoBCJO co-founder Joe Herreraw! The response to the LiveJazz Journey post on the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra has been wonderful! Thank you so much. Delighted to share with you an update, courtesy of BCJO trumpeter and co-founder/co-leader Joe Herrera (pictured left). Joe ran a big band in Arizona for three years. When he moved to the District, it was natural for him to think about replicating that experience.   He connected with Brad Linde, who reached out to Bohemian Caverns owner Omrao Brown and the BJSO was born. So, here’s the line-up from April 2nd: Saxes: Brian Settles – Alto Sax, Sarah Hughes – Alto Sax, Elijah Balbed – Tenor Sax, Leigh Pilzer – Tenor Sax, Brad Linde – Baritone Sax. Trombones: Corey Wallace, Steve Shaw, Mike Matarazzo and Shannon Gunn. Trumpets: Mike Davis, Joe Herrera, Donvonte McCoy and John Williams. Rhythm Section: Dave McDonald – Drums, Eliot Seppa – Bass, Dan Roberts – Piano and Rodney Richardson – Guitar.

The BCJO’s 2nd anniversary is coming up April 16 and given the orchestra’s extensive repertoire, the many remarkable musicians living in the DMV (that’s DC, Maryland and Virginia) and the City’s warm embrace (consistently selling out Monday nights!), I’m thinking they’ll be around for many years to come.

The Journey Begins

Week One: Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra

Thanks for joining me on this LiveJazz Journey! For the next 52 weeks, I will be checking out a live jazz show in a different city each week. From Seattle to Miami, Boston to L.A. and dozens of points in between, I plan to explore and share with you the wide-ranging diversity of this music we call jazz. And what better month to begin than April, Jazz Appreciation Month?

To get this party started, I traveled to my hometown, Washington, D.C. and checked out the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra on April 2nd. Located in the heart of the still-evolving U Street corridor, which used to be known as America’s “Black Broadway,” Bohemian Caverns is an anchor of the City’s vibrant jazz scene. The neighborhood holds a special place in my heart. From 1994-1998, I was the first executive director of the U Street Theatre Foundation, which operates the historic Lincoln Theatre – one of three theaters that earned the aforementioned appellation in the early part of the 20th century. The neighborhood’s resurrection so many years after being devastated by riots in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968 and subsequent years of blight is an urban success story in many regards.

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The 17-piece Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra has staked a claim on Monday nights in the District. Founded by Bohemian Cavern owner Omrao Brown and baritone saxophonist Brad Linde, this nimble large ensemble moves effortlessly through the big band canon and then some! It was hard to keep track of the playlist with my camera in hand, but the audience was treated to fresh arrangements of tunes by Wes Montgomery, Count Basie and a few originals from BCJO members. Linde shares the music director chair with trumpeter Joe Herrera and the two of them see to it that the ensemble swings with sophistication and verve.

Bohemian Caverns has a remarkable history and it was exciting to see the Orchestra enjoying a standing-room-only house on a Monday night. Granted, the space is intimate and as you’ll see from the photos, the décor definitely evokes a cavern. The vibe is anything but spooky, though. As one of three rooms in the three-story venue (the second floor is a restaurant and the third floor is home to Liv, another performance space/lounge), it feels more like a black box theater than a smoky jazz club. If you’re heading to D.C. for business or a quick getaway, definitely put seeing live jazz at Bohemian Caverns on your must-do list.