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Paul de Barros: Critically Speaking

By Published: March 13, 2007

AAJ: All local musicians?

PdB : All local musicians.

AAJ: With original music?

PdB: With original music. And then in '89, this grew so organically, it was really nice, we realized we needed our own organization to get our own grants. So we formed a board of directors and we became Earshot Jazz, a non-profit organization, and we kept doing the magazine, which ran monthly, we put on the concerts, and then the next step was to do a festival.

Mark Solomon was the guy who really wanted to do a jazz festival, and you have to recall that there had been a jazz festival in '82 and '83 that was kind of a franchise deal that George Wein did called the KOOL Jazz festival, and there had been a jazz festival in the 70's that Jim Wilke had been involved in presenting, but we had no jazz festival other than the Bellevue Jazz Festival, which was all local musicians, which was great. Seattle, for what ever reason has always supported its local culture and that's a wonderful thing. So no other city had a jazz festival like the Bellevue Jazz Festival, but what we didn't have was a JVC Jazz Festival or a Monterey Jazz Festival or a big festival that brought in people from all over the world, and so Mark was really hot to trot on that.

AAJ: The Bellevue festival was a small one, right?

PdB: That's right. It was one weekend, in the summer.

AAJ: So Mark was rarin' to go.

PdB: He was rarin' to go and I was like, "Oh, Mark, you don't want to get into that, man." But at the last (Earshot) concert, Julian Priester and Ralph Towner, or Julian Priester had gotten this big grant for $15,000 to compose new music, and we collaborated with him on that to do that concert. And that was such a big success, Mark kind of won me over, and Gary and I said "Okay, maybe we should do a festival."

So Mark pretty much broke the whole thing and most of it was at the Nippon Kan, this was 1989, and it was wonderful: Jay McShann and Carla Bley. Was Sun Ra that year? I can't remember, but it was a really good festival and it sold reasonably well. It was a nice mix of mainstream and avant-garde stuff and local things, a nice mix. I was really proud of the festival, but Earshot had become so big and so prominent, I mean big in relative terms, that I was getting to the point where the Seattle Times was saying to me, "You can't do this anymore. It's a conflict of interest." So for a while I quit writing for the Seattle Times and I ran the organization as a volunteer executive director.

Then I just burned out on that; I wasn't making any money. So I left Earshot and went back to the Seattle Times. And I said, "You know, if you guys want me to run this thing (Earshot), you're going to have to pay me." At the time it might have sounded egotistical, but I said, "I'm sorry, I can't do this. If you want to run it, run it by yourself." And it was run as a kind of collective for a while. But a guy named Ted Dzielak, who helped me immeasurably with writing the Jackson Street book (Jackson Street After Hours), came in and got a grant from the NEA through a new program called Jazz Management; and they got $12,000 for an executive director, and I came back as the executive director. Paid, quote unquote. (laughs)

The irony is it turned out to be a two-year grant, so it was really only $6,000 a year. I did that for a little while. The other big element that I hadn't really seen in this kind of global analysis of what the jazz scene really needed was that it also had no sense of its own history. So in the magazine we started doing these interviews with people and called it The Roots of Seattle Jazz, and that was the beginning of what would become this book Jackson Street After Hours.

One of the interviews that I did was with Jabo Ward, and Jabo was really kind of pissed off that I didn't know about this whole scene that had happened here in the '40s and '50s, like, "Who the fuck do you think you are to write about jazz? You know we used to have a real jazz scene with Quincy Jones and Bumps Blackwell", and he went on and talked to me for about 45 minutes. Of course I knew Ernestine's (Anderson) background, but I really didn't know that that was a local scene, nobody did, other than black people his age. So I made a very large mental note of that, and when we first started Earshot I said, "You know we should really document the history here," because I could see there had been this real disjunction, a kind of disruption in history.

In the '60s and '70s there was hardly any jazz, and then suddenly you had this influx of these new guys like Marc Seales and Dave Peck and Chuck Deardorf, who were the new generation, and they didn't know too much about what had come before, or quote unquote outsiders like Art Lande and Gary Peacock and Julian Priester, who had come in from other scenes, and there was a disconnection between the jazz scene as it existed and the jazz scene as it had been before. I thought, well maybe we can tell that story and reconnect, because not only do you need a mirror to see yourself in, you also need to know where you came from to know who you are.

So in the process of doing the research for that article and thinking about doing the concert series and the magazine, I really made this kind of global analysis about the scene. I got a grant from the King County Heritage Commission in 1988 (to write the book), but by 1990 when I took on the job and started getting paid to be the executive director of Earshot, I started getting some pressure to finish it, because I'd already missed the first deadline in '89, which was the centennial of Washington State. So I resigned as the director and threw myself into the book full-time, as full-time as I could because I was writing for the Seattle Times and started to work for (the Seattle) Folklife (Festival) as the program director.

Finally got the book finished in the fall of 1993, and to be honest with you it was the most astonishing transformation I'd ever scene. I'd always thought that historical transformations happen slowly; I felt like, yeah, people will read this book and eventually it will sink in that there's a relationship between the jazz scene now and what was before. That book wasn't out three months and I had people talking to me and saying, "Oh, yeah, yeah, it's like the old Jackson Street scene in Seattle", and I was like, "Excuse me?" Suddenly that book had become absorbed into the parlance of the city as if it had always been there, and people talked about it as if they always knew that. This was a huge shock to me.

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