If the Hamilton isn’t sold out, it’s close.

It’s the night after Christmas in Washington, D.C., a city that famously empties for the holidays. Yet there are certainly enough people—of all ages, all genders, and all ethnicities, though a majority are African-American—to pack the 600-capacity basement venue a few blocks from the White House. No empty tables are in view, and the standing room area by the back bar is filling up fast.

The performer filling the seats at this ordinarily tough-booking time and place? Ben Williams, the jazz bassist and native Washingtonian who plays the Hamilton every year at this time. It’s a combined Christmas and birthday celebration (Williams will turn 35 two days after this concert), and family, friends, mentors, colleagues, and plain old fans have made it one of the District’s seasonal customs to turn out in droves.

This time out there’s yet another dimension to the performance. “I have a new album on the way,” he announced to cheers from the crowd. “I’m so excited to share this new music with you guys. The new album is titled I Am a Man, which of course comes from the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike … I wanted to address social issues in the world that was going on around me. It’s been somewhat of a journey, exploring a lot of new musical territory.”

Indeed it has. Williams brandishes not the upright wooden bass on which he made his reputation (though there is one

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