PICK: The Kofi Shepsu Trio at VMFA and w/Charles Owens at Black Iris

Black Iris gig on Jan. 12 dedicated to the music of Thelonious Monk.


There are several chances this week to see jazz drummer Kofi Shepsu, who was profiled by Style Weekly in May 2022.

Now based in New York City, where he is attending the elite Manhattan School of Music (MSM), Shepsu's skills made him one of the most in-demand young drummers on the local scene.

His trio includes pianist Joe Block and bassist Jack Aylor, both rising young lions from the New York scene. Shepsu has known Block since they were both finalists in the YoungArts competition in Miami in 2017. Block went to school with Aylor at Columbia, just down the street from the Shepsu’s MSM.

This week, the trio will be holding down the Wednesday, Jan. 11 gig at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the following night, teaming with saxophonist Charles Owens for an all-Thelonious Monk program at Black Iris on Thursday, Jan. 12. (For those willing to travel, the trio plays again Friday night at Miller’s on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.)

The Wednesday night concert involves two free short sets at VMFA. Arrive early if you want a place to sit, there is a big established crowd. “We’ll do both standards and originals,” Shepsu says. “It is going to be a fun time.”

Shepsu is especially interested in the intimate Black Iris show on Thursday, which is dedicated entirely to the music of the legendary pianist and composer Thelonious Monk; this show also features the great New York City transplant to Richmond, saxophonist Charles Owens. “It will be a completely different set,” Shepsu promises. There are plenty of Monk songs from which to choose. “I'm not sweating what we’ll play. Definitely ‘Round Midnight’ [Monk’s biggest hit] but we can also do something like ‘San Francisco Holiday,’ some of the stuff you don’t hear in Richmond every day.”

The Friday gig in Charlottesville is likely to repeat songs from Wednesday’s VMFA gig.

All of these events not only provide a great showcase for Shepsu, but an excellent chance to check out a group of award-winning, in-demand players in either the spacious atrium of the VMFA, or the listening room intimacy of a social club/gallery.

The Kofi Shepsu Trio plays the VMFA on Wednesday, Jan. 11, from 6-8.

The Kofi Shepsu Trio with Charles Owens plays the music of Thelonious Monk on Thursday Jan. 12 at Black Iris Social Club. Doors at 7:30 p.m. and music at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $5 in advance or $8 day of show.