Roosevelt High School Jazz Band photo by Daniel Sheehan
By Sara Jones, Edan Krolewicz, and Kathryn Sherman
Old-time swing. Bebop. Cool school. Bossa nova. Hip-hop fusion. Jazz has a range of different voices around Seattle, and great news, young musicians, there are a plethora of events and opportunities that welcome all ages. How do you find your sound and get involved? Take your pick among the venues, jam sessions, and educational opportunities below, each open to everyone.
When learning the jazz language, one of the most important tools is your ability to listen. The following venues feature world-class local and traveling musicians, and each has at least some hours or evenings open to all ages.
2033 6th Ave
In a cool, New York club-like atmosphere, Jazz Alley brings in serious local and national talent, including hosting Grammy Award-winners regularly. All shows are all ages, and most are jazz, but the venue also offers blues, world, R&B, folk, new-grass, and rock artists. Prices range from $25.50-$45 most of the time, but there are a handful of $10 shows per year, and students get a hefty discount (half-off) at the 7:30pm sets on Wednesdays and 9:30pm sets on Thursdays. Call for reservations, as tickets often sell out.
The Royal Room
5000 Rainer Ave S
All ages until 10pm, the Royal Room is an artist’s venue in historic Columbia City that offers a diverse array of music. With permanent backline, sound and video recording, a grand piano, and a generous stage, the venue has been designed to serve the musicians and artists performing. Open seven nights a week, the restaurant is suited to patrons of all ages and varied tastes. Enjoy their comfortable, neighborhood feel while hearing the work of innovative musicians.
Chapel Performance Space
4649 Sunnyside Ave Nwaywardmusic.org
Nestled in the neighborhood of Wallingford, the historic Good Shepherd Center became a Seattle Landmark in 1984, after providing over 60 years of service to young women seeking shelter, education, and training, before declining numbers of residents forced it to close in 1973. Located on the fourth floor of this multi-purpose community center, the Chapel Performance Space is perhaps one of the city’s best-kept secrets when it comes to live music. Each month, Steve Peters’ Nonsequitur and a community of like-minded organizations and artists present concerts of contemporary/post-classical composition, free improvisation and the outer limits of jazz, and much more in the pristine space. With stellar acoustics, majestic stained-glass windows, and gorgeous wooden floors and columns, the Chapel Performance Space is a fitting venue for audience members to worship at the altar of adventurous and experimental music.
216 Union St
Known for offering a wide variety of musical styles, there is something here for everyone. Every night of the week, the Triple Door offers one or more free events on their Musicquarium stage, from blues nights and singer-songwriter showcases to funk and brass bands. All shows that start before 9pm are all-ages, and the Musicquarium Lounge has a full menu.
Tula’s Restaurant & Jazz Club
2214 2nd Ave
Offering a mix of local and touring artists, Tula’s is a great place to hear both big band and small combo jazz. It has been featured in many magazines, including Seattle Weekly’s list of the “Top 50 Jazz Haunts” and DownBeat magazine’s list of “100 Great International Jazz Clubs.” It offers live music seven nights a week and is open to all ages until 10pm.
B Sharp Coffee House
706 Opera Alley, Tacoma
The B Sharp Coffee House has become one of Tacoma’s most popular all-ages hangs in the city. Opened in October of 2013, in the building that used to house the old Tacoma News Tribune, the coffee house is a welcoming venue for local and newer acts. B Sharp has also established a strong relationship with Tacoma Jazz Association, hosting many of the non-profit’s events each month. Any night of the week, one can find music lovers of all ages in this cozy venue.
What is jazz?
“Jazz in an all-inclusive, ever-evolving American art form which focuses heavily on the creativity and expressiveness of improvisation. Over the years jazz has spread throughout the world and with its flexibility and inclusiveness has brought numerous cultures together.”
– Kareem Kandi, Saxophonist/Composer/Director, Tacoma Jazz Association
“Whether you’re looking to collaborate or find a mentor or learn about new venues and concerts, a good way to get connected is simply to go out to performances and jam sessions and introduce yourself to the musicians,” says local musician Max Holmberg.
Diving in headfirst is the best way to learn this music. Seattle has a fun and supportive environment that embraces all ages and levels. Check out these jams below to get in on the excitement!
Couth Buzzard Jazz Sessions
Sundays, 2pm & 7pm
8310 Greenwood Ave N
Featuring concerts, open jams, poetry readings, open mic nights, and more, this bookstore with a community center feel has the motto: “Building community, One Book, One Cup, One Note at a Time.”
The first Sunday of each month features a blues open jam, and the second and fourth Sundays of the month feature a jazz open jam, both hosted by saxophonist Kenny Mandell. Mandell also hosts a music improv session every first Sunday. The jazz jams start at 2pm, and the blues and music improv events start at 7pm. All jams are open to all ages and all levels.
Lastly, Couth Buzzard hosts a concert series each First Friday, also open to all ages. August 5 will feature the 200 Trio and Tonal Vision.
Egan’s Ballard Jam House Vocal Jam
Second & Fourth Wednesdays, 9pm, $10 cover
1707 NW Market St
One of the few vocal-specific jams in the Seattle area, Egan’s is a great venue to gain experience. They describe themselves as “dedicated to providing a positive community-centered environment for jazz education and performance.” It’s all ages until 11pm and offers student discounts to many shows. Check their calendar for performance and jam schedules.
Racer Sessions at Café Racer
5828 Roosevelt Way NE
Offering innovative performances and jam sessions since 2010, the Racer Sessions have become an integral part of Seattle’s music scene. Each week, an individual or group leads the session, beginning with a performance that presents ideas and concepts that are developed in the jam session that follows. According to their website, the jam “frequently incorporates the aesthetic and techniques of avant-garde jazz and classical music,” but “warmly welcome[s] musicians of any persuasion to share their voice.” It is organized by Seattle record label Table & Chairs, and upcoming presenters are listed on racersessions.com.
What is the best way to get involved/grow in the Seattle jazz community as a young person?
“Seattle is very fortunate to have many outlets and opportunities for aspiring jazz musicians. I think the best ways to grow are voraciously listening to iconic jazz artists; getting good private instruction; playing with and hearing other musicians as much as possible; getting all the mentoring you can; working hard on ear training and harmony/theory knowledge; practicing, practicing, practicing; and being yourself!”
– Erik Hanson, Executive Director, Jazz Night School
Camps, clinics, workshops, and more are available year-round, no matter your age. They are often led by local musicians, making them a great way to connect with and find mentors within the tight-knit Seattle jazz community.
Racer Session Classes
The Racer Sessions offers a free beginning instrumental improvisation workshop called Improvisation is for Everyone! the third Sunday of every month from 6:30-7:30pm. The class welcomes people of all ages, ability levels, and disciplines to collaborate and learn about collective improvisation. (And bonus: participants can apply their new skills straightaway in the subsequent Racer Sessions, detailed in the Jam Sessions section above!)
In collaboration with Cornish College of the Arts, the Racer Sessions will also be facilitating a Masterclass series starting this fall as part of the “Cornish Presents” event series. The series , open to all ages, is designed to give local bands the opportunity to perform and speak about their musical journey and approach with students in an open forum. Find more details at racersessions.com and cornish.edu.
Jazz Night School
Offering extensive jazz education and performance opportunities to all ages and all levels, Jazz Night School teaches improvisation in ensemble settings and truly “uplifts lives” (as articulated in its mission statement) for all its participants, currently ranging from 12 to 70 years old. The organization currently offers 20 ensembles (standard combos, gypsy jazz, big bands, Brazilian, etc.), five classes in various music studies, periodic workshops, and private lessons.
Offerings youth find especially rewarding include ear training classes, small jazz ensembles, Trad Jazz combo, Singing with Jazz Trio, the All Voices Gospel Choir, and the big bands, including the top level All-Star Big Band. The ensembles and big bands rehearse weekly, then perform at Columbia City’s Royal Room at the end of each ten-week session. The level of teaching here is on par with that at a conservatory or specialized school, but provided at accessible prices, with partial and full tuition waivers available.
The fun never stops at Seattle JazzED: the non-profit offering classes, workshops, camps, and ensemble performance opportunities year-round. Offering partial and full scholarships to qualifying students, they provide access to excellent music education to youth all over the region. They focus on musical excellence, character development, access to a quality education, and community. Seattle JazzED offers opportunities including the Girls Ellington Project, a Masterclass Series, All Star Combos, Big Band Ensembles, and more. Students in several ensembles, such as Big Band, also have the opportunity to travel to New York City, while other opportunities include performing at Seattle venues like the Triple Door and Jazz Alley. To learn more about the organization’s variety of opportunities visit their website at seattlejazzed.org.
Tacoma Jazz Association Classes at Ted Brown Music
6228 Tacoma Mall Blvd, Tacoma
High-caliber educational opportunities for local young jazz musicians aren’t limited to Seattle. Venture to Tacoma on Tuesday evenings at 7:30pm for instruction in improvisation and performance opportunities with professional jazz artists at Ted Brown Music. Put on by the Tacoma Jazz Association, the class is open to all ages and abilities, and offers students special hands-on study and performance time with world-class artists that they don’t normally receive in a regular high school or college jazz band setting.
What is jazz?
“Jazz is a Black American art form shared by all cultures domestically and internationally. Jazz uses improvisation and individual interpretations as a powerful means of expression.”
– Jordan Leonard, Program Coordinator, Seattle JazzED
If swingin’ tunes put you in the mood to move, check out these dance spots. With classes for all levels and styles, you’ll be doin’ the Jitterbug, Boogie Woogie, and Jive in no time!
All ages Swing nights, Sundays & Tuesdays
915 E Pine St
Offering camps, classes, and open dance nights, you can learn all of the moves you need to look like a Swing (East and West Coasts) or Lindy Hop pro. Century Ballroom also offers dance classes in hip-hop, Balboa, and more. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced dancer looking to challenge yourself a little, this beautiful venue has it all.
Russian Community Center, 704 19th Ave E
The host of the longest-running all-ages swing dance in Seattle, HepCat productions provides fun for all levels. Whether new or an old pro, classes and private lessons are available for you. Every Thursday night from 9pm to midnight, you can dance Swing, traditional Jazz, and the Lindy Hop. The dance is free if you’re registered in one or more of their classes.
Seattle Swing Dance Club
First & Third Sundays, 6pm
Alki Masonic Center, 4736 40th Ave SW
The Seattle Swing Dance Club (SSDC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting West Coast swing dancing in the Seattle area. The club holds bi-monthly dances on Sundays in West Seattle. These all-ages dances are open to both SSDC members and non-members, and are free if you attend the workshop beforehand.
SSDC also presents an annual “Easter Swing” convention and offers workshops, instructional series, and a Step-by-Step West Coast Swing dance class for the public. Four levels of classes, taught by professional instructors in the area, are offered throughout the year. At all levels, this series is perfect for the beginning dancer and also the more experienced dancer needing a brush-up on the basics. The only prerequisite? “A heart ready to try new things.”