THE JAZZ HANG by Katy Bourne
Editor note: Check out the J & J Music Showcase at Jazz Alley this Thursday night.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 31
2033 6th Avenue
J & J Music isn’t just a booking agency. It’s not exactly a production company or a publicity firm. It’s not a record label either. Any of these descriptions would be too limiting. Instead “J & J Music” is a labor of love, formed to get bands working, create cohesion among musicians and to better the music community at large. The “J’s” behind J & J Music are pianist, Josh Rawlings, and trumpeter, Jason Parker. I recently met Josh and Jason over breakfast at Seattle’s B & O Espresso. I found myself sitting across the table from two very bright, articulate artists with loads of energy and lots of big ideas.
Trumpeter Jason Parker
Josh and Jason are working musicians on the Seattle jazz scene. Both are extremely busy players and juggle a multitude of projects. Jason’s band, The Jason Parker Quartet, plays at many venues throughout the northwest and also keeps busy with a heavy casual business. In addition, Jason plays with the funk group, Water Babies, and in duos with many fine Seattle Musicians, including pianist Ty Bailie, guitarists Jamie Baumgart and George Stone, and others. Josh also has a long list of projects, which includes the bands Soul Kata, Industrial Revelation, The Teaching, Water Babies, Pocket Change, the Flora MacGill Band, the Jason Parker Quartet and, of course, the Josh Rawlings Trio. Josh and Jason also perform together as a duo. Although their backgrounds are quite different, their life experiences and passion for jazz led them to each other and ultimately, to J & J Music.
Josh Rawlings had a deep connection to music, even before birth. “My Mom said it felt like I was playing drums in her womb.” He was born in St. Croix, Wisconsin and spent a good part of his childhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Around 5 years of age or so, Josh began taking piano lessons from a classical teacher and would study with many teachers over the years. By his own admission, however, Josh wasn’t particularly engaged by the necessities of theory or reading music. He just wanted to improvise, explore and enjoy the music. His greatest inspiration was Billy Joel. “I wanted to be the piano man. I wanted to be Billy Joel”, he recalls, unabashed. When Josh was 14, his family moved to Issaquah, Washington. Here Josh found himself playing piano at church and also singing and playing with his high school jazz choir. This was his first taste of jazz piano, mostly just playing chord changes. After high school, Josh enrolled in the jazz program at Cornish College. Josh’s first year at Cornish was sobering. He realized that he did not know as much about jazz piano as he’d thought. He lacked a firm foundation in “the fundamentals” and his first year at Cornish was spent “trying to keep up.” Josh almost dropped out of the jazz program after the first year. However, the support of fellow students and encouragement from mentor and Cornish faculty member, Randy Halberstadt, kept him going. “Randy is a great jazz pianist. He was doing what I wanted to do. He was very encouraging. Randy replaced Billy Joel.” Josh stuck it out, completed the program and graduated from Cornish. He’s been working as a professional pianist ever since.
Pianist Josh Rawlings
When Jason Parker was a kid growing up in Palo Alto, California he fell in love with the cello. He was told, however, that he was too small to play the cello and was encouraged to play the violin, which did not interest him. When Jason was in 2nd grade and getting ready to begin the instrumental music program in his elementary school, he needed to make a decision as to what instrument he would play. He recalls that two weeks before he was to decide on an instrument, his class was assembled in the multi-purpose room of the school, where a band was playing. “It was the first time I’d heard a jazz note in my life. I’d never heard anything like that.” Jason was particularly taken with the bandleader, who played the trumpet. He was “like 11 feet tall” and wore a colorful Dashiki. Jason was mesmerized. The bandleader was Dizzy Gillespie. In that instant, Jason’s decision was made. “I am a trumpet player.” he said to himself. “That was it for the cello.” Thus the journey began for Jason. He played in the concert band in his school. When he was 8 years old, he started classical piano lessons and hated it. Jason jovially recalls, “I was a professional musician at 9 years old. I was paid 25 cents for every 15 minutes of practice.” Looking back, Jason believes that those piano lessons were one of the “greatest things my parents ever did for me.” Jason continued with the trumpet and eventually joined the jazz band at his high school. This was his first time to play jazz or to read big band charts. During his senior year, Jason also played in a regional jazz band, directed by his high school bandleader. After high school, Jason entered the University of Redlands as a music business major. He recalls that he had an 8:00am theory class, four days a week. After his first year of college, he put down his trumpet, “bailed” on the music business major and ultimately majored in philosophy at Pizer College. During this time period, Jason also began working at the college radio station. This began what would be a professional career in radio. His career path took him to Eugene, OR and, briefly, Boulder, CO before landing him in Seattle, where we was the program director at The Mountain radio station. He was only 29 years old. Although at the top of the corporate ladder, Jason found himself in turmoil, both personally and professionally. He was going through a divorce and also working at a job he hated. He realized that “being the Program Director at a corporate radio has little to do with music. Music is an afterthought.” About this time, Jason saw a notice for a jazz workshop, led by Seattle bassist, Ev Stern. Jason showed up to the workshop with trumpet in hand but had no intention of playing. Ev had other ideas and persuaded Jason to play. Jason’s chops were rusty and he recalls that Stern focused on the positives. “He was really cool. He complimented me on my tone.” Jason continued with Ev’s workshop for a year and a half. He dove into playing trumpet and immersed himself in jazz. “I was working at a rock and roll station and only listened to jazz.” He also started playing with as many people and in as many situations as he could: rock, funk, jazz, anything. “I just wanted to play.” Jason joined the band Soul Provider, which allowed him to quit his day job. Jason learned from many of the players on the scene, including Stern and also Tony Grasso and Brian Kirk, and has studied off-and-on with trumpeters Ingrid Jensen, Brian Lynch and Laurie Frink. “Everybody is my teacher. I learn from everyone I play with, good or bad. We live in a town where the scene is pretty friendly.” Jason ultimately started his own quintet and continues to keep a very busy gigging schedule.
Jason and Josh met through the social and musical network, My Space. Jason was looking for a band to open for a Water Babies show and came across Soul Kata. Their first show together featured Water Babies and Soul Kata at the Tractor Tavern in January of 2006. The connection between Josh and Jason was immediate. “We realized that we got each other”, Jason recollects. They shared similar sensibilities and struggles, especially in the vein of booking. Jason felt that as a program director, he always found it easier to deal with a representative as opposed to the artist him/herself. Thus Jason and Josh got the idea to book each other’s bands, and things “branched out” from there. They also started booking friend’s bands and soon J & J Music was born.
Although J & J Music does plenty of booking, Jason and Josh do not want the company to be viewed solely as a booking agency. Rawlings and Parker both believe that it is easier to generate buzz around musical events, as opposed to simple club engagements, and they are actively engaged in making the scene happen. J & J Music recently produced a New Year’s Eve Party at the Triple Door and is also working on CD release parties for several local musicians. The company motto is “Let Us Create It” and they are open to anything that keeps musicians working. Says Parker, “We are not in the business of taking money out of musicians’ pockets. That’s the last thing we want to do. We find out what they need for a given event and then figure out how to make it happen.” To that end, Parker and Rawlings live and breathe outside the proverbial box, looking for non-traditional venues for live music and also, atypical channels for fiscal support. For example, Rawlings was recently successful in getting a liquor company to agree to sponsoring a live performance. Beyond the nuts and bolts of booking bands and launching events, however, there is a much bigger vision driving J & J Music. The goal is to better the community, to value the music and to educate fellow musicians about business standards. “If I take a bad paying gig, I’m hurting everyone else. Simple awareness. Awareness that’s bigger than your own individual needs. Awareness of the big picture. Everyone suffers when one individual lowers their standards,” explains Rawlings, who recently took a job at the musicians’ union for the purpose of representing and aiding fellow musicians. Parker adds, “ To create an awareness of support. That’s my goal.”
J & J Music has plenty on tap for 2008, starting with a big event at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley on January 31st. In partnership with Broken Time Records, J & J Music will be presenting a double CD release party for jazz pianist Eric Vaughn and the Michael Owcharuk Sextet. This spring, J & J Music will also be presenting the CD release party for Seattle drummer, Jeremy Jones and his band, Xtet at the Triple Door. In addition to CD releases, J & J will be booking several dates at The Musicquarium at the Triple Door and also at The Repp in Snohomish. They will stay busy promoting Broken Time artists and will also stay focused on booking parties, weddings and other private functions. As Josh and Jason check things off on this seemingly endless “to do” list, they will, no doubt, continue to visualize a better music scene for Seattle and will brainstorm ways to realize it. There is no question that they will be successful and hopefully they will inspire the rest of us to roll up our sleeves as well. As Josh sums it up, “To get something out of the world, you have to put something into the world.”
For more information about J & J Music, please visit www.jandjmusic.net