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Celebration of Jim Knapp

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Jim Knapp photo by Steve Korn.

Monday, January 31, 6pm
Jazz Alley
2033 6th Ave
$16

-BY PETER MONAGHAN

The Seattle jazz community will gather to tribute the life and contributions of bandleader, composer, trumpet player, and longtime faculty member at Cornish College of the Arts, Jim Knapp, at a “Celebration of Jim Knapp.”

He will long be remembered by his many friends, bandmates, fans, and colleagues as “the primary architect of Seattle’s modern jazz scene,” as Paul de Barros put it in the Seattle Times.

Knapp died on November 13 at a nursing facility in Kirkland from congestive heart failure and complications from diabetes. He was 82.

At the celebratory event, Scrape, a 19-piece string chamber orchestra that Knapp formed in 2010 with former student, violinist and violist Eyvind Kang, will perform at 6:45pm, led by concertmaster Heather Bentley. Scrape will perform three Knapp compositions, one a premiere. Then, the Jim Knapp Orchestra, a 13-piece big band led by Jay Thomas, will perform three of Jim’s compositions.

In a tribute to Knapp in Earshot Jazz, fellow musician Steve Griggs, who will emcee the evening at Jazz Alley, cited a comment of Jim’s that sets the tone for the celebration: 

When jazz musicians get together, they’re always joking and laughing ‘cause it’s an activity that’s different than music but still fun, you know? And you don’t wanna talk it to death too much, so you just enjoy each other’s company and then go play music, and then get off and have a drink, and have a few laughs, and it’s not a bad life.

Knapp received many awards and honors including a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Composition Fellowship. Some colleagues referred to him as “Seattle’s Gil Evans” due to his skills in large ensemble composition and arrangement.

In 2006, Cornish College of the Arts hailed his “35 Years of Jazz” and in 2010 awarded him its Certificate of Excellence in Teaching. His book Jazz Harmony is much studied. Knapp is credited with shaping the Cornish jazz faculty, one of the first, into a nationally significant one thanks to his hiring of outstanding performers from around the country. Among them were bassist Gary Peacock, trombonist Julian Priester, drummer Gerry Granelli, vocalist Jay Clayton, pianist Art Lande, and saxophonists Carter Jefferson and Hadley Caliman. All, noted de Barros in the Seattle Times, profoundly influenced jazz in Seattle.

Knapp’s Composers and Improvisors Orchestra, which from 1977 to 1985 attracted guest artists of national and international stature, shared in that increased limelight, as did his JKO beginning in 1995. In 2007, Earshot Jazz inducted him into the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame after he won Earshot’s award for Best Acoustic Jazz Group in 1995 and Jazz Record of the Year in 1999 for Things for Now. He recorded his music on six albums, including First Avenue for ECM.

Tributes have flowed for Knapp. On Facebook, Grammy Award-winning pianist, composer, and arranger Jim McNeely called him a “brilliant musician, great teacher, and a humble, sweet, generous man.” Many similar tributes are certain to be shared at this celebration of life concert.

Admission is $16, with $10 of every purchase to be donated to Seattle JazzED. Tickets are available online or by phone from Jazz Alley, and if available at the door. The Knapp estate will offer a hosted bar and light appetizers through the event.  For more details, please visit jazzalley.com/www-home/artist.jsp?shownum=5290.

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December 29, 2021

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