Concert Preview: Jim Knapp Tribute

Originally published in Earshot Jazz October 2011

Jim Knapp makes music, mentors musicians, and likes laughter. For the past forty years, Knapp fed the Seattle jazz scene with his compositions, improvisations, ensembles, and students. And he shows no signs of slowing down. This concert is an opportunity for the community to give back for all of Knapp’s selfless gifts to the Seattle music environment.

All of Knapp’s music expresses his dry wit, experimental outlook, and meticulous craft. As a composition student, one of his early works for the University of Illinois jazz band was titled "Summertime." After quoting the first three notes of the Gershwin opera tune, the melody is abandoned for a lush exploration of harmonies and textures hinted at from just that fragment.

The first half of this concert will feature small ensembles of Cornish colleagues and friends performing works from his vast portfolio of songs. The second half will show off the Jim Knapp Orchestra (JKO), a 13-14 piece chamber jazz ensemble. The repertoire will be drawn from the band’s three recordings On Going Home (1995), Things for Now (1998), and Secular Breathing (2003).
The final lineup was unavailable at press time but the JKO will likely include trumpeters Vern Seilert, Brad Allison, and Jay Thomas, saxophonists Mark Taylor, Steve Tressler, Stuart MacDonald, flautist Paul Taub, French horn player Tom Varner, pianist John Hansen, bassist Jon Hamar, and drummer Matt Jorgenson.

Knapp uses a smaller brass section than most big bands (three trumpets, two trombones) and employs the versatility and mellowness of French horn as a link to the five reeds. Because of the reduced size, every part counts, nothing is redundant, and everything is exposed.

Playing in the band requires great reading and listening skills. What sounds natural can look pretty complicated on the page and what looks simple in a part can make an unexpected or counterintuitive musical statement. Eyes and ears must be delicately balanced, otherwise performers will quickly find themselves stepping in rather smelly piles of musical excrement.

Leading a volunteer band like this is exhausting – booking gigs, organizing personnel, scheduling rehearsals, tracking down parts. “I fired myself from my band as leader and rehired myself just as composer. We’re going co-op,” says Jim Knapp. Luckily for Knapp, the pay is the same. On the other hand, his pay as leader was nothing.

Although unlikely that he will perform on this concert, he continues to practice and play trumpet. His tone echoes his speaking voice – a resonant core with a soft halo, direct but humble, profound but gentle, wise but playful.

Knapp is recovering from having his right foot amputated in September, the result of diabetes and a broken ankle from a fall. Although insurance covered a portion of the medical and related expenses, a sizeable amount was paid out of pocket and dug into precious savings. All proceeds from this event will go to benefit Knapp’s finances. Your support in giving back to him while he continues to enrich our musical scene will be greatly appreciated.

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