A Seattle Jazz Scene Preview
For more information, visit www.bellevuejazz.com.
Whether intentional or not, the organizers of the 2010 Bellevue Jazz Festival could not have picked a more appropriate headline act than trumpeter Terence Blanchard. His career represents all the aspirations of the three-year-old festival, to be commercially successful, critically respected, and to be involved and invested in its community’s culture and education.
Blanchard, who performs Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Theatre at Meydenbauer Center, is 48 years old, a composer, arranger, band leader, and teacher. A native of New Orleans, he grew up in the same circles as the Marsalis family. Wynton Marsalis was the one who recommend that Blanchard replace him as a member of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, considered then to be the ultimate finishing school for jazz music’s most promising talent.
He moved to New York and lived in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, considered then to be the African-American SoHo, with neighbors like the film director Spike Lee, who asked Blanchard to play trumpet for some of his films like “Mo’ Better Blues,” about a jazz trumpet player. That led to Blanchard writing the score for “Jungle Fever,” and his lucrative career composing music for films took off.
Of course, Blanchard continued to perform and record his own albums, riding a graceful line between hard bop and more traditional standards. He earned his reputation as a serious composer with his Grammy Award-winning album, “A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina),” his musical reflections and interpretation of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Going a step further, as artistic director of the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz, he persuaded leadership to relocate the school from Los Angeles to his hometown of New Orleans, doing his part to restore the rich artistic tapestry of his city.
Rising to high expectations, he recently recorded “Choices,” an album of songs inspired by serious, philosophical explorations of the choices we make as individuals and as a society. It includes spoken-word recitations by Princeton professor and activist Dr. Cornel West.
Blanchard is the main attraction of the four-day festival that starts Thursday, June 3 and ends Sunday, June 6. The lineup of national acts includes young talent like singer Sachal Vasandani and the edgy, pop-influenced piano trio, The Bad Plus, and veteran guitarist Pat Martino, who is the subject of a new documentary called “Martino Unstrung” about his remarkable journey back from a crippling brain aneurysm. Unable to remember his family or how to play, he started in the 1980s to re-learn to play the guitar.
The Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra opens the festival Thursday night with a 7 p.m. performance in the Theatre at Meydenbauer. The show will feature local high school all-stars, the “Rising Stars,” who were selected by judges to perform at the festival. The Bad Plus performs Friday night at 7; Pat Martino performs at 2 p.m. Saturday; Blanchard performs Saturday at 8; Vasandani sings Sunday afternoon at 2, opening for the piano duo of Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes. All those shows will be in the Theatre at Meydenbauer, with ticket prices ranging from $10 to $50. You can buy an all-festival pass for $119 or buy admission to both Saturday shows for $59. Both those packages will guarantee premium seating.
Performances will no longer be held in Meydenbauer’s Center Hall, the convention space next to the Theatre. Audiences will find the acoustics and sightlines in the Theatre are much better. Attendees should also notice the headache of construction is gone. Last year, concertgoers h ad to negotiate closed sidewalks and scaffolding to get to shows. That construction is now complete.
Northwest-based musicians will perform free shows all throughout the festival in restaurants, bars and hotels in downtown Bellevue. The lineup of local talent includes: Gail Pettis, Overton Berry, June Tonkin, Eric Verlinde, Joe Doria, Bill Anschell, Murl Sanders, Josh Rawlings, Mark Taylor, Tom Marriott, Randy Halberstadt, John Hansen, Jeff Johnson, Tom Collier, Dan Dean, Devin Phillips, Jose Gonzales, Primo Kim and Matt Jorgensen.
Some of the area’s best high school and middle school jazz bands will also play Saturday and Sunday at Bellevue’s City Hall and in the Bellevue Arts Museum.
The best bet of the festival might just be the Friday and Saturday-night jam sessions. Origin Records will host the Friday jam, the Music Works Jazz Orchestra the Saturday jam. Both start around 9 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel. Last year the jam sessions went on late into the night with local musicians playing with touring musicians and even some high school kids.
While street parking will be tough to find, many of the venues offer validated parking in garages. Organizers estimate there are 25,000 paid parking spots available for the festival. All the shows are within walking distance of one another, with no walk taking much longer than 10 minutes. To purchase tickets and see a full schedule of performances, visit the festival’s website at www.bellevuejazz.com.