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John Gilbreath: Within Earshot

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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JG: Well, I am terribly self-critical so I don't really need critics because I can hammer on myself a lot more effectively than anybody else. And it's really as much of a curse as a blessing. I don't see myself in altruistic terms. For me, I am just doing something that is not entirely selfish but is consistent with my values and it took me at least half of my life to hone those values and to realize that I carried those values. It took me another segment of time to put into action the changes that would lead me to consistently live those values. And that is what is called the crux of the biscuit [laughter].

Betty Carter used to tell singers that you have to learn to sing like everybody else but at some point you have to find your own voice and set all of those other things aside and find the one that is you. So when I was in the middle of this process, I didn't look at it in grandiose terms. I thought to myself, I need to get this shit together and find out what life is going to be.

There are so many people that want to be doing one thing but are doing something else. I am now 62 and only have $200 in my savings account and that's the extent of my retirement. At my current lifestyle, that will get me through about a half of a week [laughter]. You have to identify what's important and then do the things that are consistent with those values. And I would like to believe that someone will care of me for the rest of my life but in the back of my consciousness, there is an image of me pushing a shopping cart around and sleeping in a cardboard box [laughter].

But I am living a comfortable life now and I do value it. And to be doing radio every day, something that I wanted to do so much that I never told anybody [sigh]... it's great and someday we will do this jazz festival throughout the year. And because of my experience in that workshop with Floyd here in Seattle when I was16 years old, I find myself doing something that has a direct correlation to the seeds that were planted way back then.

I also love working with Seattle artists and I think it's so important and it's like the saying goes, "Think locally and act globally." We have to nurture our own artists, nourish our own scenes with the two employees that we have [Program Manager Karen Caropepe, and Danielle Bias, Earshot Editor] along with the modest budget that we have to raise every year. And you know, we do this as much as possible. And for me, to have young people come to me that are in mid career for whom I was instrumental in helping realize their gift or the value of their life's work; it's a very wonderful thing. That's payday for me and repays me on a deeper level.

But I still have my mother's voice and there was a time that I went to visit her and she said, "I am trying to figure out what to do with my life and what I should have done with my life." And I said, "Well, you told me, you don't get to do what you want to do, you do what you have to do." And she looked at me and said; "Well, I think I was wrong." That was about a year before I started to change my life around. And so for me, I love this, I love the juice of it but it's also true that the more people you are able to help, the more people you are able to piss off in the process. And so there is so much more that we could be doing and that we should be doing for this organization of Earshot Jazz.

And we are so lucky....to have that article in The New York Times last Sunday [September 23, 2010] on the Seattle jazz scene. I call it jazz ecology and it pisses some people off but I think of it in those types of holistic organic terms. It's self revealing and there is a value system here for jazz in this city to the extent that this organization has played a roll in. That's good and I'm happy. But it's not just one thing; it's a whole group of things. It's all the different factions, the insiders and the outsiders, the modernists and the traditionalists and the educational institutions and the renegade collective of people. It's all of those things together.

And yes, those are contentious people who don't necessarily get along and they all think they are doing the right thing but when you look at the whole picture, those are all individual voices singing together in relative harmony. And that's a great scene. There are very few cities that are blessed with that kind of sensibility.

Our Improvised Music Festival is the longest running festival of improvisational music in the country and that says something about the environment here as well. And at the same time, we have Origin records that is making a name nationally and putting out high quality, pristine mainstream jazz. So there are different aspects of this thing and we are really lucky to have it.


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