Let Seattle Swing Again: A Jazz Community’s Mission to Revive Its Local Scene

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    by Patricia J. Griffing
    Published: May 25, 2024 (4 weeks ago)

    As the birthplace of legendary musicians like Ray Charles and Quincy Jones, Seattle boasts a rich jazz history. However, in recent years, the local jazz scene has struggled to maintain its once-vibrant presence. Now, a passionate group of musicians, venue owners, and jazz aficionados is on a mission to revive Seattle’s jazz culture and restore its status as a premier destination for live jazz.

    A Storied Past

    Seattle’s jazz roots trace back to the early 20th century, when the city’s Jackson Street thrived with jazz clubs and bustling nightlife. The scene produced a unique blend of styles and fostered the careers of numerous iconic artists. Yet, as times changed, many venues closed, and the scene waned.

    “We have such a deep jazz heritage here,” said Dr. Wesley Hill, a music historian at the University of Washington. “It’s heartbreaking to see the decline, but there’s a renewed energy to bring it back.”

    A New Movement

    At the heart of this resurgence is the “Let Seattle Swing Again” initiative, launched by a coalition of local musicians, jazz educators, and community leaders. Their efforts focus on increasing performance opportunities, enhancing music education, and fostering community engagement through jazz.

    “The goal is to make jazz accessible to everyone,” explained Lisa Thompson, a saxophonist and one of the initiative’s organizers. “We want to create more platforms for musicians to perform and for audiences to experience the magic of live jazz.”

    Revitalizing Venues

    A crucial part of the initiative involves partnering with local venues to host regular jazz nights. Clubs like Tula’s Restaurant & Jazz Club and The Royal Room are at the forefront, offering spaces for both seasoned performers and emerging talent. The Crocodile, traditionally known for rock music, recently added a weekly jazz night to its schedule.

    “Live music is the heartbeat of any music scene,” said Joe McDaniel, owner of The Royal Room. “By dedicating more nights to jazz, we’re not only supporting artists but also giving audiences a place to connect with this incredible genre.”

    Educational Outreach

    Education is another key pillar of the movement. The Seattle JazzED program, a nonprofit focused on youth jazz education, has expanded its offerings to include free workshops, masterclasses with renowned jazz artists, and scholarships for young musicians.

    “We’re investing in the next generation of jazz musicians,” said Kelly Clancy, Executive Director of Seattle JazzED. “By providing access to high-quality music education, we’re ensuring that the jazz tradition continues to thrive.”

    Community Engagement

    The initiative also emphasizes community involvement through events like the Seattle Jazz Walk, where various neighborhoods host simultaneous jazz performances, creating a citywide celebration of the genre. Additionally, pop-up concerts in public spaces like parks and markets aim to reach broader audiences.

    “The Jazz Walk was amazing,” said Mark Harris, a local resident. “It felt like the whole city was alive with music. It’s a great way to introduce more people to jazz.”

    Support from the City

    Recognizing the cultural and economic benefits of a vibrant music scene, the City of Seattle has pledged support for the initiative. Mayor Bruce Harrell announced plans to provide grants for music venues and artists, along with funding for public jazz festivals.

    “Jazz is an integral part of Seattle’s identity,” Mayor Harrell stated. “We are committed to supporting efforts that enrich our cultural landscape and bring people together through the power of music.”

    Looking Forward

    With momentum building, the future looks promising for Seattle’s jazz revival. Upcoming events include the return of the Seattle Jazz Festival, which will feature local and international artists, and the launch of a new annual competition for young jazz musicians.

    “We’re just getting started,” said Lisa Thompson. “There’s so much potential here, and the community’s enthusiasm has been incredible. We’re excited to see how we can grow and sustain this movement.”

    Conclusion

    As Seattle’s jazz community rallies to rejuvenate the local scene, the “Let Seattle Swing Again” initiative embodies a spirit of resilience and passion. By fostering performance opportunities, enhancing education, and engaging the community, these dedicated individuals are not only preserving a vital part of the city’s heritage but also ensuring that the sounds of jazz will continue to echo through Seattle’s streets for generations to come.