Golden Ear Awards


Back row: Brian Cobb, Cliff Colón, Walter Cano. Front Row: Julian Priester, D’Vonne Lewis, Christina Spadafore, Rayna Mathis, Vikram Madan. Photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn


Alex Dugdale photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

“I don’t know if y’all have noticed,” said emcee Alex Dugdale halfway through the 2023 Golden Ear Awards, “but everyone who has won an award has talked about two things consistently: support and community.” He repeated it for emphasis, lingering over its truth. We hold award shows to acknowledge the best and brightest in our community, but the announcers and recipients of March 12’s ceremony constantly reiterated that the strength of the community itself ultimately matters. The performances that bookended the night — one led by gifted trumpeter Jun Iida, the other a joyous group jam featuring many audience members — only reinforced the notion. 

L-R Dylan Hayes, Trevor Ford, Jun Iida, D’Vonne Lewis, Martin Budde. Photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

NW Recording of the Year

Tom Baker Quartet, Begin Again 

Abe Beeson presents award to Brian Cobb

Begin Again may have arrived with mere weeks left in the year, but it made an impact. True to its title, it plays like a reintroduction to Baker’s penchant for bridging traditional jazz structures with fearless, disruptive improvisation. Humor and heart flood these compositions, and the quartet behind them — featuring Jesse Canterbury (clarinet), Greg Campbell (drums), and Brian Cobb (bass) who accepted the award on the band’s behalf — lean into their performances with an unpredictability that, a decade after their last album, still manages to exceed expectations.

NW Acoustic Jazz Ensemble of the Year

Kareem Kandi World Orchestra

Christina Spadafore accepts the award on behalf of Kareem Kandi. Presenter Freddy Fuego in background. Photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

Kareem Kandi’s been playing in and leading bands since 1996, but his World Orchestra is a different beast altogether. From weekly workshops at Tacoma’s Ted Brown Music to free year-round shows and masterclasses, Kandi and his cohort have worked tirelessly for years to transfer their love of jazz to their audience. This award, graciously accepted by Kandi’s wife and children, demonstrates his success.

NW Alternative Jazz Group of the Year

Jazz Overhaul

Cliff Colón photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

“Seattle is blessed to have its own genre,” said Cliff Colón, saxophonist of Jazz Overhaul. He’s talking about grunge, which the Seattle quartet has spent the last couple of years translating into the jazz language. Renditions of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” Alice in Chains’ “Them Bones” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” frequently pepper their setlists, and the fact that they pull it off with such imagination and verve is wholly down to the band’s players, which also include drummer D’Vonne Lewis, keyboardist Jake Sele, and bassist Osama Afifi. On stage, Colón took the time to shout out bandmate Lewis, sat in the crowd, the two exchanging brotherly, conspiratorial grins.

NW Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year

D’Vonne Lewis

D’Vonne Lewis photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

At this point, it’s inarguable that D’Vonne Lewis is the real deal. He loomed large over the entire night; outside of his win with Jazz Overhaul, he also set the place ablaze as the drummer behind Jun Iida’s opening set. His incendiary performance could not have been a more potent reminder of the reason why it’s his fourth time winning this award since 2013, and yet Lewis’ acceptance speech, laden with humility, demonstrated why the Seattle jazz community is so endeared to him. “I’m just trying to work hard and learn from everyone,” he summarized. “I don’t feel deserving.”

NW Emerging Artist of the Year

Jahnvi Madan

Vikram Madan photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

Any of this category’s nominees would have been the correct choice here, but we’re ecstatic to hail Jahnvi Madan as this year’s Emerging Artist. Her resplendent clarinet work originally came at a heavy cost when her technique, honed at the New England Conservatory of Music, left her with jaw pain that forced her to learn the instrument anew. Recovering, she instead composed, and Earshot had the privilege to feature those compositions during the 2023 Jazz Festival. Madan is currently finishing up her education at the Conservatory, but she got the chance to express her gratitude remotely: “Earshot and my community in Seattle have shown me that they believe in my music over the past year,” she said via speakerphone. “That has been really encouraging.”

NW Vocalist of the Year

Eugenie Jones

Peter Adams accepts award on behalf of Eugenie Jones. Photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

If you’re a regular Earshot reader, you know who Eugenie Jones is. With a voice redolent of smoke and velvet, the West Virginia native had spent the last decade-plus becoming an internationally known (and, recently, Grammy-nominated) talent. The many accolades she’s received, including this one, are undeniably well-deserved. Tacoma pianist Peter Adams accepted the award in place of Jones, who was recovering from foot surgery. 

NW Concert of the Year

Benefit for Julian Priester w/ guest emcee Christian McBride

Halynn Blanchard presents award to Julian Priester. Photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

When legendary trombonist and soon-to-be nonagenarian Dr. Julian Priester suffered yet another heart attack last year, Thomas Marriott properly understood the kind of loss his death would represent. He led the charge to organize a benefit in late September for his recovery, and the benefit, with its star-studded personnel and enthusiastic turnout, succeeded wildly. Without it, Priester might not have graced us with his benevolent presence. Standing with the help of Sandra Walker, his words cut straight to the point. “Thank you for supporting this program that acknowledges the sound,” he said meekly, “because it’s the sound that stimulates you all.”

Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame

Thomas Marriott

Thomas Marriott photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

Eugenie Jones

Paul de Barros presents award to Eugenie Jones. Photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

Marriott didn’t think he’d achieve this kind of award before hitting his 50s, but his history speaks for itself. The Seattle native has spent the majority of his waking hours since his adolescence learning the trumpet, and despite leaving the fecundity of New York’s jazz environment to return to his hometown, his industriousness kept him doing high-profile gigs ever since. The man does not stop working, and his entry into Seattle’s Jazz Hall of Fame is just as much a marker of his work ethic as it is a recognition of his talent.

Jones’ induction into the Hall of Fame should come as no surprise for anyone who attended the Jackson Street Jazz Walk over the last few years. In announcing the award, Earshot co-founder Paul de Barros outlined Jones’ role in helping shape it. “Jackson Street was really where our jazz scene was born,” he explained, “and Eugenie Jones put in so much time making it more fun and more expansive.” He laced his appreciation with a gentle reminder about the power of possibility: “It’s easy to have great ideas and sit around and talk about them, but if you actually put the time in, something happens.”

Community in Action Award

Laurie de Koch – Executive Director, Seattle JazzED

Walter Cano accepts award on behalf of Laurie de Koch. Photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

Rayna Mathis – Editor, Earshot Jazz Magazine

Rayna Mathis and John Gilbreath. Photo by Lisa Hagen Glynn

Gilbreath, in his words, considers an award ceremony to be a success if somebody cries. He just didn’t expect it to be himself. He fought back tears presenting the final two awards of the night, each in acknowledgment of actions benefiting the Seattle jazz community. The first went to Laurie de Koch, co-founder and current executive director of Seattle JazzED, whose sliding-scale tuition and free provision of instruments has allowed over 500 underserved children access to a comprehensive jazz education. Staff member Walter Cano, who accepted the award on her behalf, offered himself as living proof of its efficacy. “I met Laurie when I was 17,” he attested, beaming. “I was one of those kids.”

A “sneak attack” is how Gilbreath described the second award, one that our editor Rayna Mathis did not see coming. And yet despite her shyness on stage — “I’m not the type of person to take up space on stage,” she admitted to this writer afterward — she undoubtedly deserves the praise. When she’s not contributing to The Creative Advantage at Seattle Public Schools, Mathis works tirelessly to preserve the ongoing story of the Seattle jazz community through this magazine. Publications like Earshot Jazz are disappearing constantly, and people like Mathis are why we continue to thrive. Thank you for all your hard work, Rayna. We couldn’t do this without you.



Posted on

March 26, 2024