A Sense of Jazz Community in Ballard, WA
“ On the subject of influential drummers, Blade declared his admiration for Elvin Jones ”
The Ballard Jazz Festival
Saturday, November 15, 2003
Boats, beer, fish—better add jazz to the list.
For generations, Ballard, WA has been famous for harboring fishing vessels, numerous blue-collar taverns frequented by fishermen, and lutefisk—a pickled fish recipe preferred by Scandinavians who settled here nearly a century ago. Now, following a full day of jazz clinics, concerts and club gigs, this salty Seattle neighborhood is poised to add America’s classical music to its notorious local identity.
On Saturday, November 15, the first Ballard Jazz Festival was enthusiastically received by over 1,200 locals who attended afternoon, evening and late-night festival events.
Drummer extraordinaire Brian Blade and his seven-piece Fellowship band delivered a 45-minute, highlight-filled set on the festival’s mainstage, performing “Crooked Creek,” “Patron Saint of Girls” and “Variations of a Bloodline” among other tunes. Melvin Butler on tenor and soprano sax, and Myron Walden on alto led a two-horn attack for this a rare appearance by the Fellowship.
The unflappable vocalist Nancy King and piano accompanist Steve Christofferson won new admirers for their genuine, heart-felt interpretations of “Mountain Greenery,” “Salt Lake City Blues” and “Straight Into Your Heart.” The duo’s complex, intervallic, vocal/piano unison on Christofferson’s “Out of Town” reaped rewards worthy of the tune’s many musical risks.
A soft-spoken, hard-judging Vincent Herring publicly challenged the New Stories trio to play his charts, and the hometown favorites did better that just keep up with the veteran alto saxophonist from New York City. Under a suspicious gaze and discerning ear, Marc Seales, Doug Miller and John Bishop provoked a permanent grin from Herring following a round of solos on “Timothy.” Grins turned to gapes on “Sweet and Lovely” as Miller’s acoustic bass solo silenced the room with listening and brought down the house with cheers.
SAUNAS AND CODAS
Three giant video screens—listing festival sponsors—served as backdrop to a spacious mainstage inside the brand new 1,000-seat Mars Hill Church performance hall. Jim Wilke, the venerable voice of Seattle jazz, presided over the festival’s evening concerts as master of ceremonies.
Earlier in the day, Blade, King, Herring, along with guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and John Stowell conducted music clinics and answered questions by any and all bold enough to ask about their art. Student musicians from area high schoolS performed. Dozens of jazz photographs were on view and for sale. And, later that night, the sound of jazz flooded historic Ballard Avenue as festival-goers relaxed and refueled in half a dozen pubs and participating Ballard Jazz Walk venues.
Origin Records’s growing catalog of 50+ recording artists supplied Jazz Walk entertainment: Upper Left trio played Bad Albert’s Tap and Grill; Rich Cole/Bill Anschell quartet filled the Old Town Ale House; Matt Jorgensen+451 packed Conor Byrne Pub (setting a new record for beer sales); Ben Thomas’s group played Bop Street Records; while Scenes with Jeff Johnson and John Stowell held forth at the Lock and Keel Tavern.
But the most interesting Jazz Walk experience had to have been the Jay Thomas/Tom Marriott quintet at the Olympic Athletic Club. More comfortable with free weights and saunas then downbeats and codas, the athletic club staff had set up a dozen or so chairs in the gym in preparation for a never-before encountered Ballard jazz audience. They needed more chairs. At 11pm, the second set had begun with people camped out on the gym floor, bouncing to the beat of Thomas on tenor, Marriott on trumpet, John Hansen at the keyboard, Russ Botton on bass, and an unknown but highly entertaining drummer pressed up into a corner of the basketball court.
BRIAN AND BILL
In all, Ballard Jazz Festival events combined to create a glowing sense of pride in a community aflutter with first-time festival success stories—a sense of pride not lost on the out-of-towners. Blade, King, Herring and Co. openly praised festival presenters John Bishop and Matt Jorgensen of Origin Records and the Ballard Chamber of Commerce.