Opinion/Editorial: The Time to Act is Now to Support Local Seattle Jazz

“Our mission is to build community, provide access to the mentorship cycle, incentivize excellence and to lower the barriers to access jazz for both performers and listeners.”

This quote from the original mission statement of the Seattle Jazz Fellowship states in no uncertain terms, the focus of the Seattle 401(c) 3 non-profit that has guided its journey from its point of inception in October 2021. This was when the fellowship initiated its “Fellowship Wednesdays” weekly affair at Vermillion Art Bar on Capitol Hill. While the non-profit has engaged in a variety of special events, the Wednesday series has presented live jazz featuring Seattle resident musicians with occasional out of town guests now for more than two years. It has provided a stage for Seattle jazz musicians to perform original music for an appreciative listening audience and be paid respectfully. While only one night a week, it has been a beacon of hope for the Seattle jazz scene that has lost its collective mainstages largely due to gentrification. The business model that guided jazz dinner clubs like the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Pioneer Square and the iconic Tula’s Jazz Club in Belltown became obsolete. The price tag for the consumer became sky high, while the numbers needed to manage a successful business became impossible. An alternative was needed if the resident jazz scene in Seattle was to survive.

On Tuesday November 21, SJF founder Thomas Marriott announced that the December 6 edition of Fellowship Wednesdays would be the last staged at Vermillion, as the fellowship would be moving into its own space in Pioneer Square beginning in late January of 2024. The venue will be a pop-up affair in the historic Globe building near the intersection of First Avenue and Main St., smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood that not long ago was the heartbeat of Seattle nightlife. Programming will increase to “several” nights a week according to Marriott, increasing employment opportunities for musicians, and live jazz access for listeners. The non-profit’s logical next step is a large one, and will require a significant increase in support from the Seattle music community at large. Most importantly, it will require an “all in” support network from Seattle jazz musicians themselves. In an interview I conducted with Marriott that culminated in an All About Jazz article in February 2022, he stated, “It takes everybody showing up. It takes people getting off the bench and off the sidelines and saying,’I’m going to show up to this person’s gig because it’s good for all of us.’” 

Photo Credit: Jim Levitt

In essence, this is a calling to step up to the plate and hit it out of the park. The time is NOW. What is required is not a burden, but an act of love and respect for jazz music in Seattle, and the artists that provide the sounds. It is a call to the jazz audience to not only support the music with your dollars, but to show up and join in the fellowship and broad sense of community this music provides. 

Photo Credit: Lisa Hagen Glynn

You can purchase a membership using the link below. If your personal income allows you to make a donation beyond standard membership, now is the time to do so. If your working life puts you in contact with personal and/or corporate entities that are possibly willing to support this venture, now is the time to begin that conversation. We can create something beautiful and long-lasting if we so wish–it’s up to us as a community. Do we want local, fair paying gigs in an inclusive environment that welcomes the public without typical financial barriers to access? The answer is definitely yes. It is now officially in our hands.

Buy a membership, volunteer your time, make a donation, show up–this is what is required of you. The exploding moment we have all been waiting for is here. Nobody is going to show up and be the savior of the local Seattle jazz scene–we are collectively just that. Marriott has set the foundation. It’s “go time” to take it from there and build our community. https://seattlejazzfellowship.org/membership

Photo Credit: Jim Levitt
Photo Credit: Lisa Hagen Glynn
Photo Credit: Jim Levitt

On the Scene: Live Jazz Previews for December

As the holiday season gets thick, the gigs tend to get a little thin. That doesn’t mean there aren’t great choices out there–there are. Outside of the SRJO performance of the Sacred Music of Duke Ellington, there is no holiday fare here. I’m not going to list the annual selection of Christmas programs, they simply do not need help filling seats. I’m focusing on the seams, on real jazz taking place in the month of December. I’m still searching for New Year’s Eve dates, with a non-jazz show at Jazz Alley and Tula’s a thing of the past. In December, Jazz Alley brings us “Heavy Hitters,” Thomas Marriott plays a set at the Seattle Jazz Fellowship and Miles alumnus Mike Stern turns up the heat, with a fusion barn burner at Jazz Alley and much more!

Photo Credit: Jim Levitt

Thomas Marriott Quartet

Wed Dec 6, 7:30 PM/ Seattle Jazz Fellowship at Vermillion

Seattle trumpeter Thomas Marriott is an internationally acclaimed jazz artist that is the author of fourteen albums as a leader. His most recent Seattle appearance saw him perform at Town Hall with bassist Eric Revis, legendary drummer Roy McCurdy and pianist George Colligan, as part of the 2023 Earshot Jazz Festival. In the final Wednesday session before a brief holiday hiatus, Marriott settles in with his Seattle quartet. Pianist Tim Kennedy and drummer Xavier Lecouturier are familiar faces on the Seattle scene as leaders, and have been performing with Marriott frequently over the past six years. Trevor Ford is a relative newcomer by comparison, while quickly making his mark as a top shelf addition on double bass. To see a quartet of this quality in the intimate digs at Vermillion is quite something and not to be missed. This date is highly recommended, and represents the last SJF gig of the year.


The Racer Sessions: Evan Smith

Sun Dec 3, 7PM/ Gallery 1412

Tenor saxophonist Evan Smith last played the Racer Sessions at the real Cafe Racer in the U district. With the latest incarnation of Racer on Capitol Hill shuttered, the legendary sessions have moved on to Gallery 1412, a tiny space in the Central District. Smith describes his relationship to jazz as “free improvisation,” a vague notion that often leaves listeners shaking their heads. What does that actually mean? Free from the incumbrances of harmony and linear rhythm? You get into the gig free? The truth is, great players can play free in and out of traditional forms, in which case, the definition of free improvisation is playing at a high level of artistry. Smith generally plays trio with bass and drums, beyond the restraint of chordal instruments. It’s an odd thing really, as Smith is known as a classical saxophonist that is meticulous in his time consuming preparation for his projects. That rubs against the grain of the tradition practiced at the Racer Sessions. In essence, Smith rips off the band-aid and leaves himself completely vulnerable to the impulse of his talents, his technical explorations and the interrelationship with his audience. 

If you are a straight ahead jazz fan, you owe it to yourself to get out and check out this long running tradition in Seattle. The Racer Sessions may take you out of your comfort zone, but then again, it may take you somewhere you never dreamed of being to your delight. Smith should provide a session that would suit your test run! https://www.racersessions.com/

Mike Stern Band featuring Dennis Chambers, Jimmy Haslip, Bob Franceschini, and Leni Stern

Tue Dec 5 – Wed Dec 6, 7:30 PM/ Jazz Alley

Guitarist Mike Stern is best known for his time with Miles Davis in the 1980’s, but his legend as a fusion musician is based on the forty years since that turbulent decade in his life. Stern can play straight up jazz guitar, or hang out on the edge of hard prog rock, the very definition of the oft-used term “fusion.” He leads a band of fusion well-knowns including bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Dennis Chambers. Guitarist Leni Stern adds a twist to things as a second guitar voice in the band, and a notable one at that. SaxophonistBob Franceschini rounds out the band tonally. A must see semi- annual event at Jazz Alley for fusions fans. https://www.jazzalley.com/www-home/artist.jsp?shownum=7414

Photo Credit: Lisa Hagen Glynn

Marina Albero

Sat Dec 9, 7 PM/ Frederick Holmes & Company Gallery

Barcelona born and raised pianist Marina Albero has been in Seattle for close to a decade, and in that time, has developed a large following. Her extremely versatile virtuosity allows her to present wide-ranging performances that bring to light her musical world that includes jazz, flamenco, classical and folk incluences. In the end, it’s Marina, a truly original voice on our scene here in the Pacific NW. In this instance, she brings her music to Occidental Square, as part of this intimate series at Frederick Holmes Gallery.

Albero’s lifetime of musical experience allows her to interact fluently with a wide ranging variety of musicians. For this performance, drummer Xavier Lecouturier and bassist Kelsey Mines are the core of the band, as they often are with the fleet minded pianist. Young tenor saxophonist Jackson Cotugno has been making his mark on the Seattle scene, and serves as an interesting choice here. Trumpeter Marissa Kall has been playing around the edges of the Seattle jazz scene, making this a bit of a coming out on the scene with one of its major stars. https://www.earshot.org/venue/frederickholmes-and-company-gallery/

The Heavy Hitters ft. Mike LeDonne, Eric Alexander, Jeremy Pelt, Vincent Herring, Kenny Washington & Alexander Claffy

Tue Dec 12 – Wed Dec 13, 7:30 PM/ Jazz Alley

With the myriad of musical forms that seem to surround jazz, it’s nice to have an evening of hard hitting, top tier musicians swinging madly with abandon. While an all-star assemblage as this may in itself seem like another “project” gig, the opposite is actually true. The band can put full focus into playing tunes without the constraint of vigorous arrangements, or the singular touch of a notable leader–these cats are all leaders. 

Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt returns after appearing at Jazz Alley in October with his quintet. He is joined on the front line by alto legend Vincent Herring and tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. Alexander has Seattle roots, and plays with an embracing warmth that balances Herring’s rapid fire approach. He co-leads the band with pianist Mike LeDonne. The in demand keyboardist is a top Hammond B-3 organist as well as a master jazz pianist. Bassist Alexander Claffy teams with legendary drummer Kenny Washington holding down the rhythm section. To many, Washington is the standard for modern jazz drumming. Horn players in particular tend to sing his praises, which bodes well for this evening of modern jazz.

Make no mistake here–this will be ninety minutes of straight-ahead, hard swinging jazz with no apologies, thank you. The quality of the players delivering it speaks for itself. https://www.jazzalley.com/www-home/artist.jsp?shownum=7486

South Hudson Music Project: New Music Mondays and Monday Night Jazz Jam with Thomas Marriott

Monday Dec 4, 11, 18- Set at 7:30, jam at 9 PM/ Royal Room

Special Note: Mon Dec 18, 7PM

Trombonist/composer/arranger David Marriott celebrates his 50th birthday for the early set, working its way towards the 9PM jam. Marriott as well will celebrate thirty years of perfroming in Seattle. Performances by the Marriott Brothers Revival plus special guests for an all-star band, The Spirits of ’73.

Mondays are traditionally community days in jazz culture, and so they are in Columbia City with the now well established “New Music Mondays.” The set up is the same each week. At 7:30, Wayne Horvitz exacts his unique form of conduction upon a revolving cast big band, performing his compositions and those of bebop pioneer, Thelonious Monk. Horvitz loves to throw in a piece by Robin Holcomb, Bill Frisell or Gerschwin, utilizing a conducting methodology that includes direction towards improvisation. In mentioning a revolving cast in the band, the main core of the band is consistent, including Seattle stalwarts Geoff Harper, Ryan Burns, James Falzone and David Marriott, Jr. In any case, the talent level is high, the compositions brilliant and swinging and the energy level through the roof.

At 9 PM, Thomas Marriott curates an open, all ages jam session. There is a sign up sheet, guaranteeing everyone gets to play. Marriott keeps a keen eye on the matchups, supporting the mentorship cycle and giving younger musicians the opportunity to play with more experienced professionals. The trumpeter starts things off with a select quartet for two or three tunes and then opens up the session. While the Monday night affair doesn’t have the historic status of the Tuesday night jam at the Owl, it has several advantages. Most notably, it is all ages, allowing jazz students an outlet outside of the academic world. Secondly, The Royal Room offers a superb backline, with a Steinway B on stage right, a solid drum kit, bass amp and guitar amp to boot. As a added advantage, many members of the RRCME hang and participate in the jam. Typically, more people attend the jam than the RRCME set, something one hopes will change. I believe if more RRCME members stayed for the jam, more fans would appear for the first set.

Tuesday Night Jam at The Owl

Tuesday nights at 9:45 PM/ Owl ‘n Thistle Pub

The Tuesday night jam at the Owl has been a Seattle tradition since 1996, and is as funky as ever. After all, this is a jazz jam in an Irish dive bar. There is no house piano, or a back line to speak of, but somehow the musicians get it done. Pianist Eric Verlinde is the constant here, with a new house set each week at 9:45 PM, and an open jam to follow until closing. Touring bands passing through town have a habit of dropping in. More importantly, it is a potent spot for musicians to gather and play and a weekly opportunity to enjoy community! The Owl has a vibe, one you have to experience to understand, and they know the proper way to serve you a Guinness.

SRJO: Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music

Sat Dec 30, 7:30 PM/ Town Hall

SRJO’s annual performance of Ellington’s 1960’s masterpiece that proposes a union of all faiths within one musical performance. Who will play Cootie Williams’ famed trumpet part, and who will be featured on tap? Will SRJO utilize a full choral group as it once did? These are all questions going in, with all possible answers being just fine–the music is worth experiencing as a source of spiritual revival no matter the approach to presenting it. SRJO founder Clarence Acox felt strongly that the piece be performed in a church, as is the case at Town Hall. No religious agenda or commercial holiday vibe here–Duke had the right idea, a revelation late in his career.