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Interviews

Paul de Barros: Critically Speaking

By Published: March 13, 2007

AAJ: Maybe they did know?

PdB: No they didn't. They didn't know shit about it because I did the research. I would ask people about it and they didn't know anything.

AAJ: Except for the older people.

PdB: Except for the older people. For example, somebody like you would sit here and, now that you know about it, would say, "Oh yeah, like the old Jackson Street scene," and I'd say, "How do you know about that? There's only one way you know about that, and that's because of this book." I'm not bragging on myself, I'm saying that what astonished me was how fast it was absorbed by the local culture; and I was so proud of that. Now that connection is made. People come here from the outside, like (Seattle vibraphonist) Ben Thomas, who came here ten years ago, and he told me that one of the first things that he did was read the Jackson Street book because it was so cool that Seattle had this history, and he felt like he couldn't play music here without knowing the history. Well, Dave Peck and Chuck Deardorf and Marc Seales didn't say that in 1977. They said, "I want to get a gig at Parnell's." I'm not putting those guys down, I'm just saying that the history wasn't documented and the continuity wasn't there for people to see.

AAJ: The book ended with the history of Seattle jazz up until the mid-60's. Do you have plans for another book?

PdB: One of the big regrets I had with Jackson Street, there's a mountain of research that I did about Seattle's jazz in the '60s that I cut out of the book, and the reason that I cut it out is because in working with my editor, who's a brilliant man, Nick Allison, who is also a jazz pianist, he said, "You know, this book needs to decide on a focus and I think the focus of the book really is the after hours scene. So why don't we have it so that the end of your book is when that scene ends. You can write a final chapter and summarize some of the developments, but you can't have three to five more chapters, you're not writing the history of Seattle jazz."



And that was really a hard thing for me to absorb. I know that one of the people who is really disappointed with Jackson Street is Jerome Gray. Although Jerome never gave me a formal interview, he's such a quirky guy, he talked to me on the phone for hours, and he also made me a huge twelve-page annotated list of people to talk to. So I knew all about the scene that he was involved in at the Lake City Tavern. I did long interviews with old groups like the Signatures, all the stuff that happened in the '60s, I studied it all and I know all of it but I never published it. Sometime I'd really love to have that see the light of day, but I haven't figured out a way to do it. I thought about doing it in installments, but it's a lot of work to pare down those interviews and I just haven't got around to it.

AAJ: I'm glad you have that research, because I think a lot of people who read Jackson Street wonder, well, where's the rest of the story?

PdB: It just wasn't part of that story, and it was going to actually hurt the book as a book, although I totally sympathize with musicians who feel disappointed, Bob Winn is another one. I did a huge interview with Bob Winn and that's not in there.

AAJ: Do you think that it would be a good story?

PdB: I don't think that it was as interesting a story. The compelling part of the Jackson Street story was that it was kind of a secret history of black Seattle and that's what gave it the juice for the white community; and what gave it the juice for the black community was it was their history. That's the reason that book is on the coffee table of just about any black household in Seattle, because it really is a kind of quasi-social history, too. It (Seattle's jazz scene in the '60s) is not as sexy. It doesn't have as broad an interest.

AAJ: I wanted to connect the dots with Earshot Jazz because you left Earshot to write Jackson Street After Hours, and a few years ago, I believe it was 2003, you were honored at the Earshot Golden Ear Awards ceremony as a new member of the Earshot Hall of Fame, and during your acceptance speech you were critical of the organization. Could you summarize your comments on that evening, and comment on the evolution of Earshot in general?

PdB: That specific instance, the catalyst for it was really very specific and I think it kind of got blown out of proportion by a lot of people from what I've heard. The comment that I made that night was specifically about the fact that the voting for the Golden Ear Awards was rigged, it's hard to come up with any better word for it, and (Earshot Executive Director) John Gilbreath had pretty much told me that. There was no nomination process, so nobody could choose from a slate of people to vote for, and when that's the case you usually don't get very many people voting.



Actually what you get in a case like that is you get either nobody voting because they can't remember what happened that year, I mean, I even have that trouble and this is my job, so people don't vote, or else they get 150 of their friends to vote for their friends. And given that playing field, Gilbreath's approach, and I wouldn't say this if he hadn't told me this directly, was to basically make the decisions himself. So I felt that that was a misrepresentation, that the process was faulty. If you're going to have an awards ceremony that pretends to be a public vote on what is the most popular, like say the reader's poll in Down Beat, then it should be that.



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