The 2019 Golden Ear & Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame Awards

Zoom screenshot of Jacqueline Tabor, Kelsey Mines, Kiki Valera, and Kate Olson

By Paul Rauch

On the evening of April 4, Earshot Jazz presented the annual Golden Ear & Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame Awards, the annual event recognizing the achievements of the vibrant jazz com­munity in Seattle. This year however, the evening was presented under ex­traordinary circumstances. With the community in a statewide stay at home order due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Earshot found a way to continue this tradition via livestream, including two live sets broadcast from The Forum at Town Hall by the Marino Albero Trio.

Albero broke the silence of the eve­ning with a riveting solo piece that ultimately landed on “My Favorite Things.” She was then joined by multi-reedist Hans Teuber and drummer D’Vonne Lewis, performing with the appropriate social distancing practiced on the large stage at this intimate ven­ue now silent with a virtual audience in attendance. In these very difficult times, Albero addressed her audience with emotional eloquence.

“It’s hard to speak tonight. My big­gest learning is that I need my friends, I need my music, and I need you. I need humans around me. I need your ideas, I need laughter. That’s what we’re trying to do tonight, hoping that the music brings us together, and makes us feel a little lighter.”

The broadcast was anchored by Ear­shot Executive Director John Gil­breath from the non-profit’s digs in Fremont, and KNKX voice Abe Bee­son, from his home in West Seattle. Through the twists and turns of this pandemic, the importance of staying connected with our community is a vital need, and a humbling quest on behalf of Earshot, Town Hall, and the Seattle jazz community at large. We celebrate the winners, and recognize what Gilbreath described as the “self-renewing jazz ecology” that this city is blessed with.


Marina Albero, A Life Soundtrack

Marina Albero photo by Daniel Sheehan.

Attempts to characterize the music of pianist Marina Albero seem to get lost in the details. The Barcelona born pianist arrived in Seattle in 2014, her career put mostly on hold while she fo­cused on her children and new life in a new country. During her time here, she has found her identity as an artist that reflects her life in music from her origins in Spain, to her new-found ar­tistic identity in Seattle. In this album of three volumes, she gifts her audience with her stunning virtuosity, merging a multiplicity of musical streams into a common, original form.

Volume one, “Albero,” is a recording made in Spain a decade ago with her historic musical family in Barcelona. The second volume entitled “Agua” is a collection of in-the-moment impro­visations. It seems as though Albero taps into memories vividly recalled autobiographically, as dormant mu­sical adventures are suddenly given a springboard into her current artistic here and now. Volume three, “Mu­sic is Love,” features Albero with her Seattle band, featuring Hans Teuber, D’Vonne Lewis, Jeff Johnson, and Jeff Busch. She is also joined by her daughter, vocalist Serena Dominguez Albero, and son, saxophonist Marcel Dominguez Albero. Albero fuses jazz, afro-cuban and flamenco forms, as well as the music of her late father, the great Catalan composer, Maria Albe­ro. Her deft touch, musical eloquence, and pure energy makes this recording a pure joy.


Kate Olson’s KO Ensemble

Kate Olson photo by Daniel Sheehan.

While saxophonist Kate Olson has gained notoriety as a trailblazing ar­biter of the outer stratosphere of jazz with her solo work, and Syrinx Effect duo with Naomi Moon Siegel, her KO Ensemble has been offering a different side of her musical persona. The en­semble has been her most visible live band over the past few years.

Olson in a way, entered the jazz con­tinuum through the side door. We first became acquainted with her through the Racer Sessions and the subsequent connections made there. In KO En­semble, she is featured on soprano saxophone and is supported by a ro­tating cast of Seattle’s creative musi­cians, including bassist Chris Symer, pianist Alex Guilbert, and drummer Brad Gibson. For Olson, the person­nel amounts to steadying influences that allow her to find her voice in the music. Symer’s orchestral approach to bass adds the elements of eloquence and virtuosity, while Guilbert’s sparse, spatial comping provides ample room for Olson to expand a melodic idea within an elastic sense of swing.

KO Ensemble bears witness to an artist descending to post-bop terra fir­ma, while at the same time, ascending artistically.


Comfort Food

Bob Antolin photo courtesy of the artist.

On the Comfort Food Facebook page, the band describes itself as “Bitches Brew meets Fela Kuti.” Terms such as Nu-Jazz, reggae fusion jazz, and neo-funk are offered as well, but there has been a term out there since the aforementioned Miles Davis clas­sic was released that covers it all—fusion.

Seattle’s Comfort Food (not to be confused with the Chicago fusion/noise duo of the same name) is a fu­sion of musical neighborhoods within a city soundscape. The band is groove based and is driven by the undercur­rent of well-known Seattle percussion­ists Thione Diop and Ahkeenu Musa. Bassist Lennox Holness and drummer Paul Huppler push a commotion of moving parts forward, creating a ve­hicle of sound to the benefit of saxo­phonist Bob Antolin’s winding, angu­lar melodic passages. Guitarist Jaiman Crunk and keyboardist Yogi McCaw are beneficiaries of this sonic rhythm section as well, themselves creating intuitive support, and imaginative soloing.

Comfort Food is a live phenomenon, their inclinations spurred on by the vibe of the night, of the venue, and most importantly, their audience.


Kiki Valera y su Son Cubano, October 26, Town Hall Seattle

Kiki Valera photo courtesy of the artist.

Kiki Valera y su Son Cubano’s Ear­shot Jazz Festival performance at Town Hall was a great evening for both lis­teners and dancers alike. On the heels of his new release on Origin Records, Valera led his band through the music of Vivencias en Clave Cubana (Origin, 2019) with virtuosic precision and in­fectious pulse.

Jazz fans may question why a per­former of traditional Cuban Son music would be considered for a jazz award, much less record for a well-re­garded jazz label such as Seattle based Origin. Valera took advantage of his performance in the Great Hall to pro­vide the answer. One of the world’s renowned practitioners of the Cuban cuatro, he improvises with the wisdom and melodic vision of a great post-bop adventurer, all the while never straying from the striations of form he has car­ried forward from his heralded musical family—la familia Valera Miranda.

The Great Hall was indeed lit up, with the band’s call and response vo­cals, and infectious rhythms inspiring a legion of enthusiastic dancers near the stage. Valera’s award, along with the two received by Barcelona born Marina Albero, highlights the good fortune of our city to call these inter­national stars our own. Along with Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto, a past multi-Golden Ear recipient, this once remote cultural outpost and its vibrant and historic jazz scene now sports a wide and international scope.


Kelsey Mines

Kelsey Mines photo by Daniel Sheehan.

Bassist Kelsey Mines was one of three strong women nominated for this im­portant award. Along with bassist Ab­bey Blackwell and saxophonist Sidney Hauser, this recognition lands her di­rectly in the forefront of generational change that clearly favors gender equi­ty in jazz music. Mines’ artistic back­ground, and ability to apply her talents seamlessly between double bass and electric has made her an in-demand bassist in a city with a plethora of great bassists.

The daughter of noted jazz educa­tor and trumpeter Mike Mines, Ms. Mines has a diverse résumé. In 2016, she was a recipient of the Holland Scholarship, giving her the opportuni­ty to study double bass with Sorin Or­cinschi at the Prince Claus Conserva­toire in Groningen, the Netherlands. Her studies there, and her mastery of classical bass has led to performances with the Yakima Symphony and Sym­phony Tacoma.

Mines’ foray into the world of jazz is diverse, to say the least. She is current­ly a performing and recording member of Anne Reynold’s Cuban Jazz ensem­ble, Clave Gringa, the Naomi Moon Siegel Quartet, and Here to Play, an experimental trio featuring Neil Welch (saxophone, electronics), and Seattle drum legend, Gregg Keplinger. 2019 saw the release of the band’s self-titled album, featuring collective improvisa­tion within sonic ebbs and flows. Her most recent project is a duo with gui­tarist Carlos Snaider, earthtonesky­tone, which they describe as ‘sound and silence, joy and mystery, devoted to the imperfect perfection of nature within and among us. Music for the living.”

Mines’ innovative spirit, and open mind in terms of convention, is evi­dent in whatever musical path she de­cides to travel. She is sharing her broad knowledge as an educator and mentor at Bellevue College, JazzEd, and the Lakeside School, as well as mentor­ing individual students in both double and electric bass at her home studio.


Marina Albero

Marina Albero photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn.

Marina Albero has offered the Se­attle jazz scene something new, and completely original since her arrival from Barcelona six years ago. Her mu­sic reflects her background in classical, jazz, flamenco and Afro-Cuban forms. Through it all, her sublime virtuosity as a pianist, and trailblazing approach on psalterium has enabled her music to continue to move forward, to probe new territory, and seek new challenges.

Her playing evokes images of jazz piano greats such as Bill Evans, while at the same time bearing the influ­ence of flamenco icons like guitarist Paco de Lucía. Her formative years in Cuba have accented her playing with flashes of Afro-Cuban rhythms, while displaying the discipline and deep understanding of melody and form

of classical training. On psalterium, commonly known as hammered dul­cimer, Albero bears the mark of a true innovator. While experimenting with tunings on the diatonic instrument, she has conjured sounds previously unexplored, while vastly expanding the harmonic reach of the instrument.

Just last year Albero received the Emerging Artist of the Year award, proving that in a city and jazz com­munity replete with world class musi­cianship, Albero has added her name into the diverse blend of historic tal­ents that have come before her. Much like her predecessors, her energy, vi­sion and sublime chops have taken her places that defy geography and style.


Jacqueline Tabor

Jacqueline Tabor photo by Daniel Sheehan.

2019 went by like a whirlwind for vo­calist Jacqueline Tabor. It was a year of significant opportunity for the Seattle singer, on the heels of her well received 2018 release, The Lady in the Gown. Tabor was twice featured in the past year with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, first celebrating the Jazz of the Harlem Renaissance, then diving into the legacy of a jazz legend in Trib­ute to Billie Holiday.

This marks the second consecutive Golden Ear Award for Tabor, who throughout her evolution as an artist in Seattle has always stayed true to her deep understanding of the blues. As an artist who found herself as a singer later in life than most, Tabor’s deliv­ery speaks to her everyday life, her tri­als and tribulations as a worker, and a mother. Her intuition for surrounding herself with the right talent has accel­erated her career to the benefit of the Seattle jazz community.


Michael Brockman

Michael Brockman photo courtesy of the artist.

Michael Brockman’s entrance into the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame comes as no surprise to anyone remotely en­gaged with the jazz community here. His contributions to a large degree are expressed in the major institutions his drive and vision have inspired.

Brockman has been mentoring jazz students at the University of Washing­ton since his arrival here in 1987. He has performed frequently in the classi­cal realm as well, being featured with the Seattle Symphony and Pacific NW Ballet Orchestra. Since 1995, he has co-directed the award-winning Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra with the iconic educator and drummer, Clar­ence Acox.

As well as being a master of wood­winds, Brockman is a noted composer, arranger and master of transcription. His studies and performance skills have been enabled and embellished by such jazz luminaries as Jaki Byard, George Russell, Wynton Marsalis, and Quincy Jones.

Brockman’s contributions as founder of SRJO, and his valued long-term commitment to establishing the world class jazz program at the UW, define his credentials as a Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame inductee. These contributions will have a lasting impact on jazz cul­ture in Seattle for many generations to come.

Suzanne Weghorst

Small place, big time. That is the moniker attached to Egan’s Ballard Jam House, the tiny jazz spot in the heart of the Ballard. For nearly 15 years, the prominent marquee mark­ing the Market St. institution has dis­played the names of hundreds of art­ists, from international jazz luminar­ies, to student combos.

In a time when small businesses, much less jazz clubs, continue to struggle in the city of Seattle, Suzanne

Weghorst is all in from Wednesday to Saturday at Egan’s, presenting shows that reflect wave after wave of new Se­attle talent, as well as sets performed by established local artists. The club has never been more important in the community, as noted venues such as Tula’s and the New Orleans have closed their doors in recent years.

Weghorst follows fellow club propri­etors Red Kelly (1999), John Dimitri­ou (2001), Gaye Anderson (2004) and Mack Waldron (2005) into the Hall of Fame. All have provided vital spaces for the evolution of jazz artists and their music in our city. While estab­lished artists have prospered by clubs such as Jazz Alley and Tula’s, Egan’s has seen fit to be sure students and un­derage musicians have opportunities, a place to grow and receive feedback and the inspiration it brings. On occasion, major artists such as Peter Bernstein and George Colligan have appeared. The club as well serves as a vital ven­ue on the annual Ballard Jazz Walk. While the future of the club, and of Weghorst’s involvement remains to be seen, the legacy of both has been well established as essential and historic in their time.

Gary Bannister

By Paul de Barros

Fred Hopkins, Henry Threadgill, Rita DeGarbriele, Styeve McCall, Gary Bannister courtesy of Rita DeGabriele.

I’m pretty sure it was Gary Ban­nister who came up with the idea to honor local musicians with the Ear­shot “Golden Ear” awards, so it’s fit­ting that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. Gary was passion­ate about jazz, and he put that passion into practice all his life (he died in 2010), presenting shows, writing re­views, releasing albums, teaching jazz history, booking Jazz Alley and deejay­ing a very hip show on the old KRAB radio. I met Gary in the fall of 1979, when he and three other jazz advocates were putting on avant-garde shows at the Seattle Concert Theatre (now a parking lot).

Listening to records with Gary was unique. The music drew him in so deeply that sometimes he felt far away, and yet somehow, he took you with him, so you started hearing the mu­sic the way he did. He had a “golden ear,” all right. He later ran a jazz loft with drummer Jeff Ferguson under the viaduct. The concert they presented by Old and New Dreams was one of the best I’ve ever heard, though the ear­lier ones by Air and the Art Ensemble weren’t too shabby! Jeff played in the Al Hood Quartet, whose album, Not Quiet Rite, came out on Gary’s label, AuRoar; it remains a favorite.

In 1984, I called Gary to see if he might want to help start an organiza­tion to promote jazz in Seattle. “When do we start?” he said. And that’s pretty much how Earshot was born. I can’t say we always agreed. He sometimes seemed to love what was new at the expense of what was old; I saw Earshot as more ecumenical. But by 1989, with the help of Mark Solomon, Earshot produced a well-rounded festival that, as Earshot readers know, continues to this day. Gary’s legacy lives on in that annual event and every day in the spir­it of Earshot Jazz.


Posted on

May 5, 2020