from Earshot Jazz

May 1-3, 7:30pm
UW Ethnic Cultural Center Theater, 3931 Brooklyn Ave NE

Springtime brings the possibility of better weather ahead, but it also signifies something more important for local creative music fans: the Improvised Music Project’s (IMP) annual festival. This year will be the seventh IMPFest, and it promises to be one of the strongest yet. Featuring on successive nights guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonist Chris Cheek, and iconic jazz bassist and composer Steve Swallow, all in tandem with students and professors from the UW Jazz Studies program, the three-day festival will take place May 1 through 3.

Each passing year brings further evolution and deepening of the UW Jazz Studies ecosystem, which encompasses the Racer Sessions at Café Racer, the Table & Chairs record label, monthly showcases at Café Solstice, and much more. The IMP acts as an anchor for these multiple streams of musical expression, linking the UW Jazz Studies program to the local community. UW professor and acclaimed trumpeter Cuong Vu was inspirational in encouraging students to extend their view of learning beyond the classrooms and practice spaces, and provided the spark and support for the formation of the IMP in 2008.

“Improvised Music Project” is a bit of a misnomer, as the range of approaches and styles explored varies greatly, from full-on free jazz improvisation all the way to intricately structured forms, with plenty blending in between, including experimental rock and hyper-eclectic hybrids. Compositional strategies seem to be as central an element of IMP activities as improvising.

As UW graduate student and IMP member Gregg Belisle-Chi points out, all the UW faculty have themselves collectively been involved in a tremendous number of different facets of jazz expression. This eclecticism becomes a part not just of the educational philosophy of the Jazz Studies department, but also the very DNA of the scene, as each new batch of students bring their own proclivities and talents to the mix.

“They pull out of the students what the student is already interested in, and a good student is open to anything and everything,” says Belisle-Chi.

In recent years, IMPFest has seen an increasing emphasis on student participation with guest artists. Students are assigned ensembles with teachers and guest artists. The shows will culminate with guest artist sets accompanied by a shifting “house band” led by Jazz Studies faculty Bill Frisell, Cuong Vu, Ted Poor, Richard Karpen, and Luke Bergman.

Night 1 of IMPFest will feature Frisell, America’s eclectic maverick of creative guitar. One of the most sought-after musicians across the music spectrum, Frisell has a well-deserved mountain of accolades and acclaim. Ranging from pastoral Americana to unhinged flights of noisy improv, Frisell’s influence as both a guitarist and a composer is inescapable.

Night 2 brings to the stage St. Louis-born (and NYC resident since 1992) saxophonist Chris Cheek. Cheek’s impressive resume includes a number of superb solo albums on the influential Spanish label Fresh Sound, collaborations with Brian Blade, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Guillermo Klein, and many others, and many brilliant recordings with groups under the late drummer Paul Motian.

Closing out the festival on May 3 will be Steve Swallow, a legendary figure in jazz. Swallow started his career in 1960 with pianist Paul Bley and was one of the genre’s very early adopters of electric bass. He has developed an utterly distinctive tone and guitar-like approach (he even plays with a pick), and is known for his complex and lyrical solos. He is also a key composer in the post-Great American Songbook jazz repertoire, with many of his compositions such as “Falling Grace” entering the must-play canon for aspiring musicians. Bill Evans, Jim Hall, Chick Corea, and many others have covered his pieces. Swallow is also well known for long-running musical partnerships with vibraphonist Gary Burton, guitarist John Scofield, and pianist/composer Carla Bley, among many others.

IMPFest VII is not to be missed: A priceless opportunity for students, and riveting listening experience for the audience.

Tickets are $20 for general admission, $12 for students and seniors. Tickets and more information available at


IMPFest VII Schedule

Events below are at the UW Ethnic Cultural Center Theater (3931 Brooklyn Ave NE), 7:30pm

Friday, May 1
Bill Frisell + students
Solo, and with Cuong Vu, Ted Poor, and Richard Karpen

Saturday, May 2
Chris Cheek + students
Chris Cheek, Cuong Vu, Ted Poor, Luke Bergman, and Bill Frisell

Sunday, May 3
Steve Swallow + students
Steve Swallow, Cuong Vu, Ted Poor, and Bill Frisell

Seattle Jazz