Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tour Diary: Sleepless in Seattle

Seattle....Just like I pictured it....Space Needles.... and Everything.....
When most people think of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, they think of Seattle. Although Portland has gotten more attention recently thanks to Fred Armisen's "Portlandia" TV show, Seattle has a bit of an edge in terms of name recognition. I've been to Seattle a bunch over the years; now that I live 3 hours away, it would make sense that I'd be doing some gigs in Seattle now and then. Earlier this month, I was offered a 4-night stint in Seattle, thanks to Seattle native Matt Jorgensen. Drummer, bandleader, and Origin Records impresario Jorgensen is well tuned in to the Seattle jazz scene; I was glad that he was able to hook up a healthy chunk of work.

Seattle traffic
And since my wife and son had never been to Seattle, we decided to make a family vacation out of it. We rented a townhouse in Northwest Seattle, in a neighborhood called Crown Hill. It was a little farther out from downtown Seattle than we had anticipated. We drove up I5 and through downtown Seattle to arrive, drop off our luggage, and then head back into rush hour  to make the first gig in Seatac. (After driving around Seattle for 5 days, we found the traffic situation at times to be almost Los Angeles-like horrendous; especially compared to Portland, which, although not a public transportation paradise, still has viable options like the streetcars, Max train, and buses to relieve potential congestion. Ironically, I downloaded a 90's movie called "Singles" which takes place in Seattle; one of the major plot lines deals with a character who is trying to develop a "Supertrain"which would alleviate the traffic problems. In reality, Seattle is known for a lack of investment in public transportation infrastructure. There are buses, true, but it's not nearly enough.And don't ask about the Monorail; while it's a good tourist attraction, and my son enjoyed riding it twice back and forth from downtown to the Space Needle, it's nothing more than a novelty. If you are planning a trip from Portland to Seattle, you might want to consider the Bolt Bus. I've taken it twice and it's super cheap and super easy to deal with.)

Mark Taylor, Matt Jorgensen, Thomas Marriott
The first leg of the tour was a nice Friday night outdoor concert at the swanky Cedarbrook Lodge with Jorgensen's band called Human Spirit. Jorgensen co-leads this band with another great Seattle musician, trumpeter Thomas Marriott. The band's repertoire is mostly originals by Jorgensen and Marriott, with a few tunes by alto saxophonist Mark Taylor, who also plays with Human Spirit. I was to play the role of the Hammond B-3 organist (the role of the Hammond was played by a Nord Electro, of course) for the evening. I rarely get to play organ gigs these days, so it's always a fun challenge to get an opportunity like this one. Human Spirit's repertoire is fun to play; it's easy to get a music vibe going right away. Some of the tunes feel almost like jazz standards. I felt like this was a good warm-up gig; I was a little distracted by the fact that the performance went a little beyond my son Liam's bedtime, so we had to rush out to get him back to the townhouse and hope that he would acclimate enough to sleep. Of course, he didn't sleep much over the entire weekend, and of course, neither did Kerry and I!

Egan's Ballard Jam House
The next performance, Saturday night,  was at Egan's Ballard Jam House, which wasn't too far from our rented townhouse. The band was again Human Spirit. Egan's was packed to capacity and the audience was attentive and enthusiastic. After the previous night's warm up gig, I certainly felt more comfortable with the music. And Marriott, Taylor, and Jorgensen played in a no holds barred fashion. It was an intense evening of music. And the fact that it was an early gig meant that I would be able to get back to the townhouse early and try to get some sleep. After spending the morning and afternoon doing touristy Seattle stuff (Pike Place Market, Monorail, various toy stores, Carkeek Park, driving in downtown weekend tourist traffic), I needed a rest.

The shirt makes me look much faster than I really am......
What I neglected to mention before is that I had also entered a half marathon on the Sunday morning of our trip. I've lost about 30 pounds since March, and I've been stepping up my running and exercise. I had been looking for a half marathon in the Portland area, but I was unable to find one that fit my schedule. I managed to find the Mud and Chocolate Run in Sammamish, Washington. Sammamish is about 45 minutes from Northwest Seattle. (It's a well manicured upscale neighborhood. It seemed like it would be a little on the snooty side. The race organizers seemed pretty laid back, as did the other runners...) This would be my first half marathon; I ran cross country in high school- in the 80's! And over the years, I had definitely let my fitness level sag. However, my weight loss and better diet had given me confidence. What I didn't realize is that this half marathon was a 13.1 mile trail run. When they say trail run, be prepared for what's more of a wooded obstacle course than a run; there are rocks, branches, quick up and downs, fallen trees, and so forth. If you don't keep your eyes on the trail, you will trip and fall, and it will hurt. It might even knock you out of the race. Indeed, as the race started, right out of the gate, folks were falling down and not getting up right away. My goals were as follows:

1. Finish the Race
2. Not Trip and Fall On My Face
3. Finish in under 2 hours.

I accomplished all 3; I finished, I did NOT trip(although I came close), and I finished in 1:58. At the end of the race, they had a table with plates filled with various chocolates and chocolate cookies. I heartily indulged; I hadn't eaten chocolate since March, so I figured what the heck. In terms of the run, really wasn't as bad as I thought. I'm considering training for a full marathon; however, my longest run so far in training has been 18.8 miles. The thought of adding another 8 miles is extremely daunting at the moment.

Sunday evening was a trio performance at a place called the Copper Gate, also not far from our townhouse. Matt Jorgensen was of course the drummer, and the bassist was another Seattle resident named Jon Hamar. This was another small, intimate room; again, the small audience was intent on hearing some good jazz. I actually felt invigorated after my run, and the first set was pretty intense, considering we had never played in this configuration before. Hamar is an excellent bass player, and his musical flexibility really livened things up. Later in the evening, we had a stellar trumpeter named Chad McCullough sit in. We even had a little trumpet battle( I had my pocket trumpet with me) on the Joe Henderson classic tune "Isotope". I had never played this tune on trumpet, so I resolved to add this tune to my list of tunes to practice.

Eric Alexander
Monday morning began with another day of touristic endeavors; the Seattle Aquarium, another jaunt on the Monorail, some bounce houses for Liam, more time in Carkeek Park, and failed attempts to get Liam to take his NAP! I was exhausted, but I had enough energy left to play two heavy sets at Tula's Jazz Club with the great tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. I hadn't played much with Alexander, and the last time I had played with him was probably at Augie's in New York(which became the great Smoke Jazz Club). Alexander is a virtuoso hard bop master; indeed, we began with Dexter Gordon's "Cheesecake", a minor tune which doesn't seem to get played very often. Alexander is influenced by players like George Coleman and Sonny Stitt, and yet he's got the ability to stretch out his solos almost like John Coltrane. It was a taste of New York style jazz in a West Coast venue; we ended the night with a super up-tempo version of "The Way You Look Tonight". I was especially impressed with bassist Chuck Deardorf's ability to play so fast and yet so relaxed. Playing truly fast tempos seems to be somewhat of a lost art among younger musicians; those who were trained in the old school at least have the concept of what "really fast" means.

Liam and I at the Seattle Aquarium
I'm eagerly anticipating my next trip to Seattle, which will be a two night stint at Tula's as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival. The dates are October 19th and 20th, and I'll be playing a real Hammond B3 organ. Joining me will be Seattle based drummer John Bishop and Portland based guitar hero Dan Balmer. Hope to see you then!


  1. Drats! Missed you in Seattle. And will miss you in Seattle in October too, apparently. Need to know when you'll be around…

  2. Hey George,
    I have been reading your blog for a while and when I saw you were playing at Tulas with one of my favorite sax players I was extremely excited. I only caught the first set, but you were absolutely fantastic! It was great to hear some killing players play through standards and take a musical journey! I loved tenderly, heres that rainy day and your solo on giant steps was one of my favorite live music experiences I have witnessed. I practiced extra the next day. I am glad you a good time in Seattle!

    Devoted reader from Tacoma


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