Dianne Reeves headlines the
2009 Bellevue Jazz Festival

Bellevue Jazz Festival Preview
May 22 – 24
for information: http://bellevuejazz.com

The new, old Bellevue Jazz Festival reconvenes for the second year in a row in its current incarnation, a full-blown, three-tiered, weekend-long, diverse offering of artists, both well-known and novices, all within walking distance (a vigorous one perhaps, but a walk nonetheless) in a maturing, downtown Bellevue.

Originally started in 1978 at Bellevue Community College as a grass-roots, local event, the current festival aims to compete with the likes of the jazz festivals of Portland and San Francisco. That means corporate dollars (Microsoft), grant money (4 Culture), and nationally-recognized musicians like Dianne Reeves, the Mingus Big Band, Kurt Elling, Danilo Perez, Mose Allison and Patricia Barber.

The BJF starts the Friday before Memorial Day and runs through Sunday, competing with one of Seattle’s most popular and longest-running musical events, the Northwest Folklife Festival. The BJF has committed itself to a three-year run. It has yet to make money but is convinced it is on the right track to becoming a viable event.

“We’re fortunate this year to have major sponsors,” said festival director Leslie Lloyd. “We are way ahead of the game compared to last year. Ticket sales are always a challenge‚ĶThe economy trickles through all aspects of every business. We’re hoping people will choose to stay home over Memorial Day weekend and choose one more rich offering close to home.”

The headline acts, which includes the addition of the hometown Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, will perform in the Meydenbauer Center. Tickets for individual concerts range from $20 to $85. Ticket packages that allow you to see an entire day’s worth of performances or the entire weekend’s lineup range from $99 to $199.

For those on a budget, most of the shows are free. There will be no cover charge to hear most of the local musicians performing at various bars and restaurants: Drummer Jose Gonzales and his trio, bassist John Hamar’s trio, singer Trish Hatley and New Age Flamenco all perform Friday night; Singer Greta Matassa, pianist Bill Anschell and trumpeter Thomas Marriott (coming off the release of his newest CD, “Flexicon”) perform Saturday night; Pianist Primo Kim, guitarist Dave Peterson, and saxophonist Hadley Caliman perform with their respective trios Sunday.

Various musicians will also host late-night, open jam sessions Friday and Saturday night at the Courtyard by Marriott-Downtown Bellevue hotel. And sprinkled throughout the weekend will be performances by student combos from some of the area’s strongest high school jazz programs: Newport, Bellevue, Edmonds-Woodway, Sammamish, Shorewood and Ingraham.

A highlight of the festival is the Rising Stars program, a hand-picked group of 18 of the area’s best high school musicans, including several that performed recently at the prestigious Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival in New York: Roosevelt’s Max Holmberg and Mat Muntz, Garfield’s Ellie Lightfoot, Newport’s Eli Meisner, Zach Stoddard and Ariel Pocock. The Rising Stars were nominated and auditioned before a panel of jazz educators. They will perform with the SRJO to close the festival.

Parking at or near the Meydenbauer Center costs $5 to $8 and parking is free at many of the smaller venues. Taxi service is limited and the event will not provide a shuttle. But most of the venues are within a 10-minute walk of one another.

“The truth is that it takes three to five years to establish an event,” Lloyd said. “We’re still in that process.”

Seattle Jazz