Six Noteworthy Events During Jazz Week 2015

Celebrate Boston's jazz legacy with more than 200 events, from jazz walking tours to big-band dance galas.

Makanda Project

The Makanda Project play Hibernian Hall on April 25 as part of Jazz Week 2015. / Courtesy JazzBoston

This Friday kicks off another Jazz Week in Boston, which runs April 24 to May 3.

But should Jazz Week even exist? Well, just ask someone who loves jazz, like JazzBoston executive director Pauline Bilsky. A few years ago, Bilsky had a conversation with a visiting musician, in which she found herself describing Boston’s Jazz Week to him. “But he looked very puzzled, and then he said, ‘Well, I don’t get it. For me, every week is Jazz Week.’ … And that’s the message that we’ve been trying to send since we revived it.”

In fact, for a number of years, Jazz Week did not exist—after a long run, it fizzled out in the ’80s. But the passionate crew at JazzBoston brought it back from extinction in 2007.

“There are very few great jazz cities in the world, and Boston is one of them,” says Bilsky. “We have an extraordinary jazz scene here year-round. Having a festival like Jazz Week—it isn’t a one-time thing.”

And while it’s tempting to reminisce about lost landmarks, there is no shortage of places to see live jazz in this city. Bilsky estimates that roughly 225 venues in greater Boston—and 50 in Boston proper—host jazz performances in some shape or form.

“Jazz really can play an important role in making Boston a better city, both for residents and visitors,” Bilsky says.

With a 10-day lineup boasting some 200 events throughout Greater Boston, there’s plenty here to satisfy diehard fans and attract curious newbies alike. And for those who might find the genre intimidating, Bilsky encourages you to dive right in: “All you need are ears.”

Here are six Jazz Week events to start:

High Notes of Jazz Roxbury Walking Tour

When Thelonius Monk came to Boston in 1950, a Daily Record reporter enthused, “If you want to see what a real be-bopper looks like, take a run out to the Hi-Hat where, at the moment, one Thelonius Monk, who calls himself ‘the high priest of bebop,’ is holding forth, be-bop hat, horn-rimmed glasses, tiny goatee, and all. Thelonius—and he swears that’s his real name—claims to antedate Dizzy Gillespie and all other exponents of musical double-talk, saying he was bopping, or maybe beeping, way back in 1932.” Back then, the Hi-Hat was one of the premier jazz clubs in the country, and the South End and neighboring Roxbury constituted a jazz mecca. Rediscover those roots on this two-hour walking tour.

$15 adults, $5 youths under 12, April 25, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., meet at Ruggles Station (Tremont Street staircase).

Makanda Saturday Night Gala Dance Party

The official theme of this year’s Jazz Week is “Jazz in the Neighborhood,” which means that many of its events have a hyperlocal angle as a way to promote the music scene of a particular Boston neighborhood. And it’s no accident that one of their marquis events is in Roxbury, which used to he a legendary jazz hotbed back in the day. If you’re interested in doing a little time-traveling, you’ll be in good company: The headliners of Saturday’s free dance party are the Makanda Project, bringing their “21st-century take on the big band dance galas of the 30s and 40s” to this ballroom setting.

Free, April 25, 8 p.m., Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley St., Roxbury, 617-849-6322.

MAAH Music: The Imagine Orchestra and Stories of Black Boston

As part of this event celebrating black culture in Boston, storytellers from the Museum of African American History will take the stage. They’ll delve into the history of jazz in Boston, which stretches back more than 200 years to Beacon Hill’s African Meeting House, a pivotal center for the 19th-century Abolitionist movement and the oldest black church building still standing in the United States. This event also marks the official debut of Imagine Orchestra, Bill Banfield’s new chamber orchestra.

$10, April 26, 4 p.m., Museum of African American History, 46 Joy St., Boston, 617-725-0022.

International Jazz Day at NEC

In 2011, UNESCO proclaimed April 30 International Jazz Day. As part of its celebration of this event, New England Conservatory—whose alums routinely rack up Grammys for their jazz prowess—is embracing the “international” part. Their globe-trotting showcase explores “the ongoing dialogue between jazz and musical cultures from throughout the world.”

Free, April 30, 8 p.m., Williams Hall, New England Conservatory, 290 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-585-1100.

Earl Klugh at Scullers

Since dropping his debut album in 1976, classical guitarist Earl Klugh has cracked the top 10 of Billboard’s jazz charts 24 times, with six of his releases making it to number one. This weekend, he brings his signature melodic sound to Scullers for two days of back-to-back shows.

$40 show ($80 dinner and show), April 30-May 1, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., Scullers Jazz Club, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston, 617-562-4111.

Mattapan Speaks Jazz

On the penultimate day of Jazz Week, the William E. Carter American Legion Post—the oldest African American VFW in the country—hosts a full afternoon of Mattapan musicians. Highlights include Fritz Orvil’s fusion band Mélanj and Frank Wilkins’s WeJazzUp (featuring Pat Loomis on sax).

Free, May 2, 1-6 p.m., William E. Carter American Legion Post #16, 1531 Blue Hill Ave., Mattapan, 617-296-5198.