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Paul de Barros: Critically Speaking

By Published: March 13, 2007

AAJ: You mentioned you recently went to hear Jim Knapp. I read somewhere that Maria Schneider said some good things about Jim's band, and coming from Maria that's pretty high praise. He's had his orchestra together for quite a while; he's put out a number of CDs; and although we can't talk about all the musicians in Seattle, I thought I'd ask you to comment on his compositions and the stuff he's done and continues to do.

PdB: Well it's interesting that Maria said something nice about him: it's on his website, and she said it to me, actually. Because Maria writes very similar to Jim. They're both inspired by Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer, in a chamber jazz approach, using French horn and flute, finding really interesting sonority instead of writing in a call-and-answer swing tradition, taking influences from other classical music in terms of extended form, which really goes back to Ralph Burns in the '40s, Jim being a trumpet player inspired by the Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaborations, using a lot of moving parts, extended forms, and a lot of jokes.

There are a lot of musical jokes in Jim's writing. He uses a lot of sophisticated compositional techniques. He's a master composer, I love Jim's music, and probably one of the reasons he hasn't become more well-known around the world is that Jim is a real modest guy who just doesn't get the world of self-promotion that musicians who succeed get. He stayed in Seattle, which is a minor market for jazz, instead of moving to New York. He didn't want to do that. He's a masterful trumpet player and wonderful composer.

It's too bad that he didn't put himself in the kind of position that Maria Schneider did when she started writing for her band at (New York jazz club) Visiones because, in addition to making herself more visible to the national media, I think it also makes her a littler sharper. If I have any criticism of Jim's music it's that sometimes he doesn't edit himself well enough, so he'll go on and on with something, no, that's not fair. Sometimes he's a little bit complacent in expecting your attention for parts of the music that aren't always going somewhere. I was thinking about this a lot actually when I went to that concert; I loved it so much and thought, well, I always say this is like Maria's music, but what's the difference? And I think there's a sense of urgency that's not always in Jim's music that is in Maria's music, a sense that you're moving toward some emotional climax, and Jim takes a long time to get there sometimes.

But I love his music, it's like clouds of music, atmospheric clouds, that doesn't always have a thru-drive like a sports car, it's more like a guy meandering through the hills and enjoying being there. There's also something that I haven't written about, I don't think, but there's a real sense of sadness in a lot of his music. I realized that that night. A lot of his best music is really melancholy.

AAJ: I want to wrap it up and give you the chance to talk about anything else on your mind.

PdB: When you called the first thing that I really thought of talking about was how much the scene has changed from 1979 to 2006. It's gone through so many transformations. What we have today in Seattle is so different than what we had 26 years ago in having this completely solid infrastructure: We didn't even touch on the school programs that have come to rise in the middle schools and high schools; the University of Washington jazz program taking off, or at least getting started; Cornish having gone through several different phases, and I think, being in a very strong one now, producing musicians like Dawn Clement; radio being strong; having five clubs that have jazz, sure Jazz Alley might do smooth jazz, but we have the Earshot Jazz Festival, and as much as I may criticize it for not having a title sponsor or being a big whiz-bang festival that I wish we had, and having a little higher civic profile, it does bring in all these great musicians like Dave Douglas and Vijay Iyer and all these people that you're not going to see otherwise. So kudos to John and kudos to Earshot for that.

With a non-profit organization, with great jazz programs, with visiting artists that come to the U of W, with Cornish, radio, frankly, the big missing piece is the criticism. I'm the only jazz critic at a major newspaper in town now; there's nobody out there kicking my ass. When Roberta Penn was at the P-I at least I had to worry if she was going to scoop me on something. There's nobody writing about jazz at The Weekly, The Stranger or the P-I, and that's very sad. That's the big missing piece.

But otherwise you've got Tula's, Bake's Place, the Triple Door, all these places. There's so much music and so many great local musicians. The caliber of music that's produced here, and the caliber and regular presence of original music, I think back to '84 and '87, kicking local musicians' asses and saying, "Play some original music! Compose something!" Now it's: "Not so much! How about a standard!" (laughs)

There's so much great original music, so many creative projects: Origin Records, the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, all these things that were talked about as possible projects that Earshot itself might at some point take on have actually blossomed as their own thing, the Ballard Jazz Festival, and now there's something on the east side, the Eastside Jazz concerts produced by Cooksie and Lionel (Kramer); they're doing their thing. Jim Wilke and Jazz After Hours. I mean we have, and whenever I say this it sounds like such a booster, but Seattle has the best regional jazz scene in the country. There's absolutely no question in my mind about it.

Photo Credit
Courtesy of Paul de Barros

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