by Amanda Ong
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This Wednesday, April 20, the Seattle Jazz Fellowship’s Fellowship Wednesdays begin again at the Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar in Capitol Hill. Fellowship Wednesday ran last year from mid-October of 2021 to February 2022, and is returning with a new format. Fellowship Wednesday will now run in six-week seasons — summer, spring, fall, and winter. The April 20 show marks the beginning of the spring season.
The spring series of Fellowship Wednesdays will feature Darrell Grant and Ron Perrillo on April 20, the Fellowship ’Ceptet and Ted Poor on April 27, Jacqueline Tabor and Tim Kennedy on May 4, Phil Sparks and Marc Seales on May 11, Ann Reynolds and Axiom Quartet on May 18, and Abbey Blackwell and Jun Iida on May 25.
The Seattle Jazz Fellowship was founded by local Seattle jazz performer Thomas Marriott, who has spent 20 seasons with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra and contributed to 13 different jazz albums.
“The Fellowship kind of came about during COVID,” Marriott said in an interview with the Emerald. “We lost a lot of the functionality in our community when Tula’s Jazz Club closed — it was the last full-time, local-only jazz venue in Seattle. … We don’t really have much of a community anymore. We don’t have a place. We don’t have a lot of mentorship. And we also don’t have gigs that pay well. So how can we have a community of players that sound good, when there’s no place for them to play, and they can’t afford to live off the wage that they’re getting?”
Marriott came up with the idea for the Fellowship based on his own experiences of traveling around to other jazz communities. While most local jazz communities are small, Marriot has had the opportunity to see what makes for a great functional jazz scene and identified some of the shortcomings of the Seattle jazz community.
“What seems to work in other jazz communities that I’ve had the great fortune to be able to engage with is that there are elders,” Marriott said. “People who hold people accountable for the music and also pass on their wisdom and explain how we play this music on the bandstand. And these are things that we can’t really learn through jazz education.”
The Fellowship’s long-term goal is to have a five-night-a-week nonprofit venue where they can run programs and play jazz every night. They hope they can introduce young people to live jazz and teach them how to play through mentorship support. Through this, they can incentivize participation, mentorship, and community, and lower barriers to access.
For now, Fellowship Wednesday will run from April 20 to May 25, featuring two bands every night. “The bands represent divergent aspects of our jazz community,” Marriott said. “So we might have somebody more traditional paired with somebody more experimental. We might have somebody more established paired with somebody who’s up and coming.”
Fellowship Wednesday is preceded by Julian Speaks, a listening session with Julian Priester, local Jazz hero who has worked with Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Sun Ra, Ray Charles, and Max Roach. The event is free of charge. Fellowship Wednesday operates on suggested donations of $20, but any amount is accepted. Marriott noted that the Fellowship is pursuing some corporate sponsors, subscribers, and grants to help fund events. The Fellowship’s other program is called the Fellowship ’Ceptet, a more hands-on mentorship program in a seven-piece working band with old, established performers and new learners, which gives people the opportunity to learn on the job from some of the best musicians in Seattle.
While Seattle was a hotspot for jazz in the 1920s and 1930s — notable destinations included the old Black and Tan Club and the Louisa Hotel — the city has changed immensely over the years, and with it, the jazz scene has diminished. “I went to Garfield High School in the ’90s, and it’s not the same place,” Marriott said. “It’s the same neighborhood, but the demographic. I mean, I looked at my nephew’s yearbook, he graduated from Garfield two years ago, and I look at my yearbook — it’s not the same place.”
Marriott said the Fellowship hopes to emphasize jazz history and traditions, especially those rooted in Black culture, and that embracing this history helps inform live jazz today. For Marriott, jazz’s origins also reflect why it is necessary for us now.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why [the Fellowship] came about after the pandemic, because I think we all realized [jazz was] not something we [could] live without, actually,” Marriott said. “This is not theoretical music. This is music for people who decide to be joyful despite conditions.”
Mostly, Marriott just hopes the Seattle Jazz Fellowship can provide the public with ways to engage with jazz, whether that be through mentorship, performance, or partnership. But for Marriott, all of that starts with simply having the opportunity to see live jazz.
“Jazz is music that’s progressive and alive, but that music stands on a foundation that has been built over the last 100 years,” Marriott said. “You’re sharing a moment together. It’s hard to do with a record. There’s a certain amount of magic. There’s a conjuring of the spirits that’s involved in a live performance, even if the musicians aren’t that heavy, necessarily, that takes place.”
Live music starts at 7:30 p.m. and all seats are first come, first served. Tickets are available at the door only, and shows are all-ages until 10 p.m.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: Trio Marina Albero (piano), Trevor Ford (bass), and D’Vonne Lewis (drums) performing at a Fellowship Wednesday last year at Vermilion Art Gallery and Bar. Fellowship Wednesday ran last year from mid-October of 2021 to February 2022, and is returning with a new format. It now runs in six-week seasons: summer, spring, fall, and winter. (Photo: Jim Levitt)
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