Photo by Bill Lange
Sunday, May 15, 3pm
Seattle First Baptist Church
1111 Harvard Ave
BY M.V. SMITH
Jazz musicians have long understood the arts’ power to reflect struggle and inspire change. The fight for civil rights informed many of the music’s most enduring works, such as Billie Holiday’s lament for the victims of lynching in “Strange Fruit.” A commitment to environmentalism motivates another strain of jazz activism. With The Alaska Suite: a story of beauty, loss, and hope, Seattle-area pianist Nelda Swiggett hopes to spark a connection in the minds of her audience between conditions in the Alaskan wilderness and the effects of climate change in their own cities and lives.
Swiggett, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, has been a part of the Seattle scene since the early 1990s. In 2015, she won the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra’s worldwide Jazz Composition Contest for Women Composers, and her big band chart “Cat Dreams” premiered at that year’s Earshot Jazz Festival.
The Alaska Suite arose from a visit to her sister and brother-in law, scientists for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. During her trip, Swiggett’s brother-in-law suggested that she compose a piece inspired by the Arctic’s fragile environment.
Debuted on Earth Day 2017, The Alaska Suite is a multimedia presentation combining the performances of Swiggett’s quintet with projected images of the suffering wrought by climate change. Swiggett reads a litany of dire climate statistics to reinforce those emotional appeals with the plain facts. Her husband, Clif, also recites an exhortation written by poet Jill McGrath, meant both to admonish and encourage a sense of hope.
This performance of The Alaska Suite benefits Green Buildings Now (GBN), a Seattle coalition of faith organizations and civic groups that seeks to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from local buildings. GBN will help fund the construction of a resilience hub on the campus of South Beacon Hill’s Bethany United Church of Christ, equipping Bethany’s buildings with heat pumps and investing in weatherization to improve energy efficiency. In an emergency, the hub will provide shelter, food, medical services, and communications to South Seattle’s underserved low-income communities.
Joining Swiggett is Julian Smedley on violin, Clif Swiggett on trombone and percussion, Chris Symer on bass, and Adam Kessler on drums. Tickets at bit.ly/aksuite.