Monday, April 22, 2013

Tour Diary: Ballard Jazz Festival

Seattle, just like I pictured it....Space Needles.....and everything....
I just got back from a long weekend in Seattle. No, I don't live in Seattle, I live in the other famous Pacific Northwestern city(and no, not Vancouver, either). A mere 3 hours by car without traffic, and merely 8 hours with traffic.......Seattle is a city with a lot of natural beauty and culture. Yes, it rains a lot, and it rained A LOT during this trip. However, I'm used to it, having lived in Portland for a year and a half. ( I think the rainy-ness is worse in Seattle. Honestly, the weather in this part of the world is really mild compared to the east coast.)We actually stayed in West Seattle, which from downtown Seattle is about a 15 minute drive without traffic.......2 hours WITH traffic.....I love the little bungalows in West Seattle, and the views are breathtaking. We rented a really lovely 2 bedroom house; my wife and son wanted to come up for the weekend, so we made a little vacation out of it.

I performed for 4 straight nights at the Ballard Jazz Festival. Ballard is a little neighborhood about 10
to 15 minutes from downtown. It's kind of a hip and happening spot for young people to congregate, with bars, coffee shops and restaurants. There are also some nice residential neighborhoods. The festival is the brainchild of the proprietors of Origin Records: drummers Matt Jorgensen and John Bishop. Both are great musicians in their own right, and their multi-talents include running a successful record label and a jazz festival. I really dig the fact that some musicians were able to create and control their own events and include other deserving musicians in the process. I can't even imagine how much work it took to put this festival on. The trick is that not only do Jorgensen and Bishop organize and promote the festival, they also play in it as well. I'm extremely impressed with their ingenuity, and they have been successful for 11 years. Here's hoping for many more.

Matt Jorgensen
I'm honored that they asked me to do 4 nights of gigs. The first three nights were at a venue called Conor Byrne( it's pretty much an Irish Bar..). Night one featured the theme of "Brotherhood Of The Drum"; I played organ with the Matt Jorgensen Trio featuring guitarist Tom Guarna. Although the set was a mere 45 minutes or so, it was very highly concentrated music; both Guarna and Jorgensen were on fire from note one. I felt like my reaction time was a little slow, but I tried to keep up the best I could.

The second night, we added bassist Paul Gabrielson and turned the same group into the Tom Guarna Quartet. I was relieved to not have to worry about the bass lines. This was my first time playing with Gabrielson, and he is quite a strong player. He and Jorgensen had a nice lock, and once again Guarna was shredding like gangbusters. Both nights had an attentive, enthusiastic crowd. The Ballard Jazz Festival is well promoted and seems to be a popular event. I believe that there are jazz fans everywhere and it's really just a question of getting them all to come out at the right time.

Night Three was basically the same group as night one except we called it the George Colligan Trio. So we did mostly my tunes and a few standards. I don't get to play organ that often(well, it wasn't
Tom Guarna
even a real organ, but it's a Nord Electro;close enough for jazz....), so I feel rusty sometimes. Holding down the bass line is quite a different feeling from just comping chords. I try to cover my technical shortcomings as an organs by playing with the best rhythm I can and trying to keep a certain amount of intensity in the music. The crowds were enthusiastic, but they ebbed and flowed, due to the fact that this night was what they call the Ballard Jazz Walk, where there are many different bands playing at once; listeners go in and out of venues up and down the block like trick-or-treaters on Halloween. I only went across the street to see the Portland crew of Jeff Baker on Vocals, Darrell Grant on piano, Dylan Sundstrom on bass, Jason Palmer on drums, and David Valdez on alto sax. They were really throwing down, considering they were backing a singer(come on, Jeff, I'm kidding around!)

The last night was held at the Nordic Heritage Museum. Two bands would perform; first was trumpeter Lew Soloff, back by Milo Peterson on guitar, Essiet Essiet on bass, and Sylvia Cuenca on drums. I got to hear just the tail end of the performance; they played a mellow version of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing", and ended with a rousing rendition of "Caravan", on which Soloff showed off his impressive virtuosity. I was really looking forward to being reunited musically with one of my first bosses in New York, alto and soprano saxophone master Gary Bartz. (This set again featured Jorgensen on drums and Phil Sparks on bass.)I worked with Bartz back in the mid 90's, and the time I spent in his bad was a real learning experience. Bartz's music is truly connected with the legends, and it's amazing to bask in his energy and wisdom. Bartz has wisdom in his choice of notes but also his choice of words; during our soundcheck, Bartz remarked that "people think it takes a lifetime to play this music. It actually takes MANY lifetimes!" (This is something that we need to relate to our students, who are under the impression that it takes 4 years of college to learn jazz.)

the Great Gary Bartz
I don't know if was the nostalgia for New York in the 90's, or whether it was just the pure joy of listening to one of the most unique alto saxophonists alive, but I was smiling pretty much the entire concert. Gary isn't slowing down as he's getting older; he's playing better than ever. Bartz knows how to swing and how to play modal music, but sometimes it's almost like he's playing rubato over the swing. It's so lyrical; not too many younger saxophonists know how to play like this. Bartz is also a master at quoting other melodies as part of his solo; however, he does it in such a way that it is never corny or contrived, it always feels natural, so natural that you might not even realize that it's a quote. During our version of "Star Eyes, " I believe he quoted maybe 3 or 4 other melodies in rapid succession as he improvised.

I always remembered that Bartz liked to find tunes which were kind of off the beaten path; on this night, we ended up doing a duo version of a Sidney Bechet tune called "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere", which was used by Woody Allen for his recent film, "Midnight in Paris". I always loved comping behind Bartz, whether it be a rubato ballad or a furious swing tune. This gig really brought me back. It's always great to play music with great players, and this gig was really something special. I left Seattle with a really positive, optimistic feeling about music. Congratulations to Matt Jorgensen and John Bishop and everybody at Origin for another great Ballard Jazz Festival.

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