Seattle Jazz Fellowship: Why in one evening,”Fellowship Wednesdays” became the most important jazz hang in Seattle
It was 5 PM on a crisp Wednesday afternoon on December 1, and thirty people sat casually in the brick lined digs of Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar on Capitol Hill, intently listening to the soft spoken musings of jazz legend, Julian Priester. The historic trombonist was playing selections from his storied career that continually over the course of seven decades has stood at the progressive forefront of the music. This afternoon it was his work with Dave Holland and Herbie Hancock that was featured. His historical and cultural anecdotes were thrilling to hear, providing weekly attendees a unique perspective on the music that they had become passionate about.
There are a variety of ways to enjoy jazz music performed at its highest level of artistry in Seattle. Many of those options include a cover and a high end price tag for dinner and drinks. Those venues tend to lack a major component of jazz culture- the hang. It is during that time before, between and after sets that cultivates community and enables fellowship.
The Seattle Jazz Fellowship weekly offers Priester’s free listening session, and two sets featuring two separate ensembles of the finest resident jazz musicians in Seattle for a reasonable cover. Vermillion serves fine drinks at a very reasonable price. If you need to eat, you can pop over to Mario’s for a slice, or head around the corner to grab a burrito. The music is the focus, and because of the organization’s non-profit status, it can book and curate music that is not ruled by the age old “butts in the seats” mentality, but with the idea of artistry in music first and foremost. At the front door, vaccination status is checked, and a twenty dollar cover charged. Fellowship founder Thomas Marriott remarked at one point, “It’s a twenty dollar cover, if you can swing it.” The important thing to Marriott and the Fellowship, is that you are there in the first place, that the evening is treated as a sacred place of music for the entire community.
The seventh edition of “Fellowship Wednesdays at Vermillion” featured young pianist/arranger Dylan Hayes performing a set of his quartet arrangements of the music of recently departed composer Jim Knapp, followed by the Nathan Breedlove Quartet. Hayes was joined by Seattle jazz icon and Knapp associate, Jay Thomas, first-call bassist Michael Glynn and drummer Xavier Lecouturier. Thomas, a 55 year veteran of the Seattle scene, played brilliantly, putting a shine on Hayes’ perfect arrangements. The focus and drive of the band revealed what has been a commonality with all fourteen sets presented thus far by the SJF–that the musicians bring their “A” game to the set, that the vibe of the room was one that invites and appreciates artistry.
Between sets, the hang was thick, with many of the city’s top musicians present, as well as a jazz audience that spanned generations. New players on the scene, now especially unknown due to the pandemic, emerge and become acquainted with their new community. Younger players are mentored by the more experienced players. The audience is able to interact with the musicians in a meaningful way. They are truly a part of the performance, of the evening’s activities. The room itself has a warm glow, an intimate, welcoming vibe. The all ages policy invites younger players and fans, and allows parents to share the music with their children.
Just before hitting the stage for his set, veteran trumpeter Nathan Breedlove informed us that Delfeayo Marsalis would be dropping by. Indeed he did, playing most of the set with this assemblage of veterans that included pianist Ron Perrillo, bassist Phil Sparks and drummer Brian Kirk. Marsalis and Perrillo played both dynamically and melodically, with the live nature of the room projecting the sound through the narrow gallery to the rear of the club, through the doors, and out into the Capitol Hill night. Marsalis’ presence brought the striking realization that in only seven total nights of operation, the hang at Vermillion was gaining significant notoriety for all the right reasons.
With the playing of the last note of the evening, the room was electric, the vibration of the music still stirring in the room and in the souls of all those that attended. Old friends and new acquaintances were united in fellowship, which of course, is the point. SJF wants you to be there, to help create a sacred place for the music. One departs the room with an overwhelming sense of community, a true feeling of belonging to something sacred, historic and sustainable. With current economnic times in direct conflict with the proliferation of art, the model presented by Marriot and the SJF is proving to be one that promotes artistry and accessibility. It is a foundational source of fellowship as its name portends, within the framework of a community that has sustained itself over a century of time. The ambitions of the group to expand to five nights a week in a permanent home is the light that shows the way to the present and future of the Seattle jazz scene. The music, the gathering of friends and the emotional and spiritual high experienced by those fortunate enough to attend speaks loudly and clearly to that.
Scroll down to On the Scene: Live Jazz Previews for December to see the full schedule of the Seattle Jazz Fellowship. Next week: Iconic jazz vocal artist Greta Matassa, and Latin Jazz piano firebrand Julio Jauregui lead their respective bands to the Vermillion stage. https://seattlejazzfellowship.org/