Bohemian Jazz Orchestra: Part of DC Jazz History
The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra (BCJO) has become a staple of the DC jazz scene and recently won the DC Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding Emerging Artist. Over the past 2 plus years they’ve played with local and national luminaries and are the highlight of the Strathmore Holiday music season. They are also working on a CD release and their three year anniversary will be broadcast live on WPFW. When I saw them get the award last month I felt ashamed I had not checked them out in person.
The Big Band format in jazz has traditionally served as an incubator: laboratories of great improvisers and composers. By providing a place to mentor, learn from others, learn about composition and arrangement, Big Bands allow players to work together through a more defined structure than small groups, and when given the opportunity, a more succinct solo. Charlie Parker played in Big Bands, John Coltrane, and so on. But since the Big Band format has waned over the decades, musicians have had to find alternative ways to pass on the traditions.
Thankfully saxophonist Brad Linde and Bohemian Caverns still see the worth in fostering this format by having created the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra. The band is dedicated to mentoring and is made up of local musicians who you might find playing in small groups around the city. But here’s a chance to see many of them work together and deliver - a veritable who’s who, a superstar ensemble of some of DC’s finest jazz performers.
I’ve seen lots of Big Bands on big stages over the years, from Count Basie to Maynard Ferguson to Harry Connick, but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the local small venue performances. I’ll never forget the power and excitement of Calvin Jones’ Blues Alley Big Band. I loved to sit up close and feel the power of the brass, the deep swing of the rhythm section, the sweat off the stage, and I’m glad to say that BCJO has carried on that DC tradition and invoked that same feeling.
There is nothing like loud, swinging jazz. It’s the same as hearing a symphony orchestra, or the power of unamplified Aria. The power comes straight from human strength and inspiration, directly to your ears. A tight band playing with spirit has a way of transporting you away from the ordinary, to live for that moment between the brass and woodwinds.
Co-lead by both Linde and trumpeter Joe Herrera, this past Monday at Bohemian Caverns the group played a broad range of tunes, from modern modal layered pieces to more traditional swing. A highlight was a rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser”, one of my favorite tunes. Tenor saxophonist Elijah Balbed, took a most lyrical and introspective solo that gave me chills. Brad Linde too also delved deep with his baritone and delivered a truly soulful exploration with his solo. The whole ensemble was impressive with it’s range, it’s inventive arrangements and sheer power.
BCJO play two sets, 8pm and 10pm on Monday’s at Bohemian Caverns, 11th and U Street NW. If you love to swing and want to be part of DC jazz history, add it to your calendar. I’m definitely going to make myself a regular. And with a $10 cover, it’s the best jazz bargain in the city!
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