Chico Freeman photo by Lois Gilbert
Various venues, Ballard
The 15th annual Ballard Jazz Festival returns to downtown Ballard Wednesday, May 17, through Saturday, May 20. Featuring live modern American music across 11 venues, the favorite four-day event is a project of Origin Records run by jazz drummers John Bishop and Matt Jorgensen. Longtime fans will be glad to find the full roster of classic events the festival is known for, delivered with a fresh feel and some choice new talent.
Per tradition, the schedule kicks off with two themed evenings at Conor Byrne Pub: the Brotherhood of the Drum on Wednesday evening (with bands led by drummers) and the Guitar Summit on Thursday (with bands led by guitarists). This year, featured Wednesday night drummers include Gary Hobbs, Greg Williamson, and Chris Icasiano, and Thursday night guitarists include Brad Shepik, Dan Balmer, and Cole Schuster. Both events are 21+ and kick off at 8pm.
Friday night brings the beloved Ballard Jazz Walk – the original solo event that the festival ultimately grew out of – starting at 6:30pm. Debuting in 2002 with five bands across five venues, the Ballard Jazz Walk now features live jazz at 10 sites across downtown Ballard, including outdoor venues Peddler Brewing Company and Pono Ranch. The Jazz Walk is always a highlight of the festival, but this year, as the festival turns 15 and Origin Records turns 20, the Walk plays a special role in featuring performances by artists that have been part of the Origin family throughout the last two decades. These include George Colligan, Gary Hobbs, the Origin Uber band, Phil Parisot, Greta Matassa, Gail Pettis, Bill Anschell, Todd Bishop, Clay Giberson, Matt Jorgensen, and John Bishop.
The final day of the festival on Saturday wraps up with the annual Mainstage Concert at the Nordic Heritage Museum at 7:30pm. (The Swedish Pancake Jazz Brunch will not happen this year.) Headliners for the evening concert include the esteemed saxophonist Chico Freeman and Northwest-based group Scenes (John Stowell, guitar; Jeff Johnson, bass; John Bishop, drums; and Rick Mandyck, saxophone).
Featuring over 100 musicians, the Ballard Jazz Festival is known for bringing in a small portion from out of town, but mostly drawing from Northwest artists, particularly those based in Portland and Seattle.
“Both John and I are unabashed champions of the [jazz] scene here,” says Jorgensen. “The most important thing for us is highlighting the talent here, and augmenting that with the out-of-town artists [who then] are called upon to collaborate with the local talent. That’s what’s inspiring for us.”
Ballard Jazz Walk ticket options include an all-inclusive festival pass ($100, purchased in advance), or individual tickets to separate events (starting at $13, purchased in advance). Local sponsors include Verity Credit Union, HomeStreet Bank, TriStar Realty, and more.
Tickets and more info at ballardjazzfestival.com.
– Sara Jones