Casey MacGill photo by Daniel Sheehan
Thursdays, July 7-August 11
Mary Baker Russell Music Center
Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma
Since 1998, Tacoma’s Pacific Lutheran University has delivered first-rate community jazz concerts and summer stargazing to a loyal audience. Sponsored by the PLU music department and KPLU-FM, Jazz Under the Stars kicks off Thursday, July 7, with six weeks of free music every Thursday from 7–9 pm. This year, acts will include the swinging vintage Casey MacGill Orchestra, two local big bands, New York-based singer Wendy Gilles, and famed vocalists from the Puget Sound area Eugenie Jones and Greta Matassa.
Year after year, the university has packed their Mary Baker Russell Music Center amphitheater full of folks of all ages, from students and PLU staff to retirees.
“Many [attendees] have been coming for years, and we have built a long and strong relationship with them,” says PLU’s Director of Jazz Studies David Deacon-Joyner. “I call them my ‘Jazz Under the Stars Family.’”
To kick off the series on July 7, Deacon-Joyner invited back crowd-favorite Seattle vintage swing band Casey MacGill Orchestra. With blues setting the foundation of his musical launching point, multi-instrumentalist MacGill has mastered danceable early jazz with a team of players embodying the harmonic colors of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and Artie Shaw.
The following week, we hear the five-horn band The Keith Henson Octet, a staple at Tacoma’s new jazz venue B Sharp Coffee House. On Thursday, July 21, the picnicking crowd will swoon to the pizzazz of the Olympia Jazz Tentette led by trumpeter Syd Potter.
Concluding July, PLU introduces New York vocalist and PLU alum Wendy Gilles to the series, following in last year’s tradition. “We are reaching all the way out to New York to bring back PLU alums that made good in the larger scene,” expounds Deacon-Joyner.
“I have always striven to balance the needs of both the artist community and my audience,” he continues. “I rarely repeat [artist] appearances…in short succession, giving the abundance of new talent an opportunity to perform, and to keep fresh faces in front of my audience,” says Deacon-Joyner.
August 4 brings notable Tacoma songwriter/jazz vocalist Eugenie Jones, the 2015 Golden Ear NW Vocalist of the Year. The nationally recognized songstress has made it onto the JazzWeek Top 50 list and has been favorably reviewed by DownBeat and numerous industry critics.
The series concludes on August 11 with internationally renowned Seattle vocalist Greta Matassa. The jazz singer and popular vocal teacher embodies techniques first mastered by vintage greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Carmen McRae, while bringing a matured phrasing all her own. Matassa holds an astounding seven Golden Ear Awards for NW Vocalist of the Year, and was inducted into the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame in 2014.
In between sets by the impressive cast of musicians, music professor and university organist Dr. Paul Tegels has been invited back to perform mini-recitals on the stunning Fuchs pipe organ in the music center’s Lagerquist Hall.
If listening to accomplished performers free of charge among a quiet, hip audience isn’t enough of a steal, PLU will also be providing free coffee at the event, with select wine, beer, and snacks for purchase, and sandwiches available for delivery from local restaurant 208 Garfield. Attendees should bring their own lawn chairs, snacks, and blankets, and are encouraged to stay after the last three concerts (July 28, August 4, August 11) to stargaze in PLU’s Keck Observatory, weather permitting.
– Halynn Blanchard
More information at plu.edu/jazz/concerts-events/jazz-under-the-stars/.