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Tula's Jazz Club: A Seattle Tradition in the Making

Paul Rauch By

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Life in the Pacific Northwest is hauntingly similar to jazz music itself, from that which is inward, deep in the recesses of our collective soul, to the outward expressionism as a ray of sunlight, an exaltation of joy, harmony expressed in the deep, deep blue of sentient life, and of our enlightened sky. High notes expressed in tall mountain peaks, deep tones expressed by deep, dark waters, all while Tahoma sits like Buddha, the near autumn clouds acting as a shroud, concealing mysteries yet to come.

Tula's Jazz Club sits between the iconic rock club, "The Crocodile,"and a row of classic dive bars in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. Recently the building housing this stretch of night culture escaped the wrecking ball of constant and insufferable gentrification, due to the historic value of an attached ramshackle apartment building that is representative of Seattle architecture previous to the massive Denny Regrade project, which turned Denny Hill into a relatively flat pallet, from which a great city arose.

Stepping inside, leaving the noise and energy of the Belltown strip outside, the intimate room features tables directly adjacent to the stage on all sides, dim lighting bouncing off deep red walls, adorned with photographs depicting jazz history in the city, as well as the acknowledged masters. The crowd speaks quietly, if at all, respecting the music that resonates between the rough hewn wooden ceiling, the carpeted floors, and the tables adorned in white tablecloths. The between set hang is warm, friendly, engaging. The stage has hosted the Seattle jazz scene for nearly 23 years, a great run for any club, in any city. It has seen the best of the remarkably creative, innovative, and forward moving jazz musicians in the city, as well as a variety of international stars, in most cases interacting with players from the Seattle area.

The summer sun is now beginning to give way to autumn clouds, that which conceal us, in the restful slumber of the autumn and winter in Seattle, peaks of sunshine glistening between raindrops, the smell of salt water in the air, captured by the low, gray layer of clouds visiting us from Salish Sea, from the great Pacific. It is ultimately a time of reflection after the relentless spontaneity that is summer in Seattle, when all that can be achieved indoors is put aside to enjoy the greens, the blues, the immense clarity of beauty that is a northwest summer. These things can wait, until the next season, the next chorus begins, like a long blues into the night.

For jazz fans in Seattle, or for music fans of any genre for that matter, this means more time spent indoors, something that can change spontaneously, with a glimpse of sunshine, a mild breeze, the appearance of snow covered peaks appearing across the sound.

It has been said that the weather in Seattle begets self reflection and creativity. In the late fall and winter months, the climate is temperate, rarely freezing, a temperate flow off the sound, with light rain a common acquaintance. During the day, the coffee houses are full, and in the night, the same for the bars, dives, restaurants and clubs. We are hidden and concealed in a blanket of clouds that provides the time to create as an artist. Perhaps this explains the extraordinary amount of talent on the scene in Seattle. Internationally acclaimed artists like Thomas Marriott, Marc Seales, Greta Matassa, Bill Frisell, Chano Dominguez and Cuong Vu, to name just a few, are playing regularly around town. There is an accompanying jazz jam band/funk scene, a plethora of original and unique composition being expressed in small and large ensembles. A thriving network of avant-garde and experimental artists such as the Improvised Music Project are very active, and supported by the Tables & Chairs record label. The highly regarded independent label, Origin Records / OA2 Records has had a huge influence over 17 years in business.

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