Ahamefule Oluo: Stitching a Story

Originally published in Earshot Jazz December 2012

“This place feels haunted at two in the morning,” Ahamefule Oluo says. He sits center stage at a Steinway grand piano, under Town Hall’s stained glass dome, surrounded by concentric semicircles of original, century-old wooden benches that slope up and away from the stage like an ancient Greek or Roman amphitheater. He plays and meditates on musical themes getting to know how the space reacts to his pieces and thinking about the stage setup. “Here I have the time to integrate the performance space. Usually you just have to rush through a sound check. I even know where the light switches are.” Oluo continues, “I can do something that is only possible here. I will combine talking and music while respecting their unique art forms. I don’t want to show either in a bad light.”

Book Review: Shall We Play That One Together? – The Life and Art of Jazz Piano Legend Marian McPartland

Originally published in Earshot Jazz November 2011

“Can’t we women make our own contribution to jazz by playing like women,” asks pianist Marian McPartland, “but still capturing the essential elements of jazz—good beat—good ideas—honesty and true feeling?” Blazing the trail for gender equality, McPartland contributed this quote in her 1957 article “Playing Like a Man” in the London publication Just Jazz.

Seattle writer Paul de Barros honestly captures these female contributions, ideas and feelings in Shall We Play that One Together? – The Life and Art of Jazz Piano Legend Marian McPartland. The 496-page biography released by St. Martins Press on October 16 features a black and white cover photo of a young brunette McPartland at the piano, smiling a playful glance at the camera over her right shoulder.

New Writing

Ten concert previews were published in the October issue of Earshot Jazz.

  • Anat Cohen
  • B'shnorkestra / Neil Welch
  • Buster Williams / Ernie Watts with Marc Seales
  • Human Spirit
  • Mundell Lowe with Mike Magnelli
  • Murl Allen Sanders with Warren Rand
  • Robert Glasper
  • Roosevelt and Ballard High Schools
  • Susan Pascal and Soul Sauce
  • Tamarindo / Tom Varner

  • A review of Paul de Barros' biography of Marian McPartland will appear in November.

    Cadence Magazine has agreed to publish a profile of pianist/composer/music director Laurence Hobgood.

    Brian Kent: Grounded and Well Rounded

    Originally published in Earshot Jazz September 2012

    Not much upsets saxophonist Brian Kent. “His persona is very kind and peaceful,” says guitarist Milo Petersen. “Once when we were playing on the street at Brian's regular weekend job, a guy approached us and started to yell at Brian for playing out there. When I related the story to bassist Geoff Cooke he said, ‘That's like yelling at Ghandi.’”

    North City Jazz Walk

    Originally published in Earshot Jazz August 2012

    Hips will waggle and bodies will spin under the stars to the salsa of Carlos Cascante, Thomas Marriott, and the Latin jazz ensemble Tumbao on Tuesday, August 14 at the North City Jazz Walk. From 7 to 10 in the evening, Tumbao joins 9 other musical groups performing in venues along 15th Avenue NE in Shoreline, just north of Northeast 175th Street.

    Bake's Place: A Performer's Dream

    Originally published in Earshot Jazz July 2012

    “Welcome to my living room,” says Craig Baker. Nestled in a tree lined courtyard in downtown Bellevue, this “living room” is the newest incarnation of Baker’s live music venue. It features 18 foot tall windows, a grand piano, and seats 100 guests. Bake’s Place reopened for business in May to sold out crowds.

    Jeff Johnson: Open to the Moment

    Originally published in Earshot Jazz June 2012

    Jeff Johnson does not typically plot lines of bass notes on each beat. No. He’s a musical surfer dude. Atop his fingerboard, he scans musical swells – open to possibilities, sensing movement. When the Zen is right, he fearlessly carves melodies in breaking sound waves. Leaning forward. Cutting left. Gliding. Dancing in the spray. With equal measure of instinct and intellect, it appears easy. In sync, in sound, inside the music.

    This balance comes from a life of no regrets. Pursuing his muse, Johnson faced down demons that haunt pioneering artists. “You could say I’ve explored as far out in the universe as I could go,” says Johnson. The quest becomes music. “I want to hear searching.”

    Overton Berry: Essentially Elegant

    Originally published in Earshot Jazz May 2012

    When pianist Overton Berry accepted his induction into the Earshot Jazz Hall of Fame last month, he turned to the audience and said, “This is a tribute to everyone I have ever listened to. I’m learning from all of you.” Typical Overton Berry – generosity blended with humility that makes everyone listening feel good and like he is speaking directly to them. It looks effortless, but this grace emanates from decades of entertaining audiences.

    Many musicians get trapped in a house of mirrors when they focus on building their chops. Berry almost did. He remembers practicing as a youth at the black musicians union hall (Seattle’s white and black musician unions integrated in 1958), working hard to play every note possible.

    Joe Brazil: Justice for Joe

    Attacking the Ivory Tower

    A rally at the Husky Union Building on the University of Washington campus kicks off “Joe Brazil Day.” On April 21, 1976, 350 people march to the University President’s Office and present a written demand – before May 5, an open meeting involving testimony from students, faculty, and community be held to officially grant or deny tenure to Assistant Music Professor Joe Brazil. Brazil, a saxophonist from Detroit who recorded with John Coltrane, teaches the History of Jazz, the most popular class in the School of Music. He frequently brings leading jazz artists to perform in class – Earl “Fatha” Hines, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, and many more.

    “I’ll accept this,” says President John Hogness, “and I’ll have an answer.” Ed Woodley, head of the Black Student Union isn’t satisfied. “We’re tired of waiting and getting no answers.” The protesters head for their next stop.

    Behind locked doors, police guard the Music Building. Five uniformed officers secure the west door, eight at the north, and ten at the east. More stroll through the corridors. Classes are cancelled. Outside, the crowd chants “Justice for Joe!”

    Brazil had been denied tenure by the School of Music faculty during the previous school year. No public notice of the meeting was given and no minutes had been taken. Protestors believe this procedure violates the Open Meetings Act enacted in 1971 by the Washington State Legislature.

    “It’s unfortunate it had to come to this,” says Brazil. “Hopefully people came here to learn.” Brazil is not vengeful. He tells the crowd that many of the people voting against his tenure are “just dumb, not mean.”

    Jovino Santos Neto: Mind in Motion

    March, 2012

    Inside the rehearsal studio, Jovino Santos Neto stops playing the piano. “I would like to hear you taking off here… like a solo at the end,” he says. The words come quickly. He speaks as fast as he thinks. He thinks as fast as he creates. And he creates as fast as he hears.

    Vocalist Flora McGill asks, “Can we do it all the way through with the solo to feel how long that is?” “Of course!” says Jovino. His hands pounce back onto the keyboard.

    “I can do like this, that I used to do with a band.” This time through, Jovino introduces the song with tinkling bells in the upper register of the piano. Flora’s clear lyrics add a floating waltz over the piano’s steady gait. She sweetens the end of her notes with vibrato. The voice and piano play two different rhythms that mesh, weaving a fabric of sound.

    D'Vonne Lewis: Reveling in the Music Industry

    Originally published in Earshot Jazz February 2012

    “There is a side of me that comes out so easily around him, there is this way we both laugh deeply together with and at life. This joy is felt on and off the bandstand.” That’s what bassist Evan Flory-Barnes says about drummer D’Vonne Lewis. I wonder what side of me would come out around Lewis. Now’s the time to find out.