The 2017 Golden Ear Awards


Award recipients (bottom row) D’Vonne Lewis, Dawn Clement, Patty Padden, Greg Ruby
(top row) Kenny Mandell, Skerik, Marina Christopher, Erik Hanson, Evan Woodle, Haley Freedlund. Photo by Daniel Sheehan

By Halynn Blanchard

The first Monday of April kicked off with a standing room-only house of artists and jazz appreciators celebrating accomplishments over this past year by the Seattle jazz community. Earshot Jazz Director and radio host (KBCS and KEXP) John Gilbreath welcomed familiar faces to The Royal Room, showing gratitude for the rare gathering of so many key Northwest musicians, educators, and listeners under the same roof.

“This is a community that might not otherwise have come together,” noted Gilbreath. “It’s a community without walls.”

Kicking off the party with hot-and-heavy grooves was Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio (Delvon Lamarr, organ; Jimmy James, guitar; and Doug Port, drums, seamlessly subbing for David McGraw). Diving into cool originals from the group’s latest LP Close But No Cigar, the trio wove in playful melodies from standards and non-standards such as “Misty,” “Billie Jean,” and “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The evening’s early birds got the worm: Lamarr announced that the trio would release a new record on—and only to be available for purchase on—Record Store Day, April 21. During their late set, the trio playfully featured new Seattle Jazz Hall of Famer Skerik on saxophone.

Jim Wilke, host of the nationally syndicated Jazz Northwest program, emceed the presentation of the Golden Ear Awards. In a night honoring current creators and helpers across the range of Seattle jazz, special achievement awards were supplemented to recognize those individual accomplishments for which the convenient categories may not fully reflect. Among the freestanding awards given out, Earshot’s own Managing Director Karen Caropepe was recognized by the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) as a Jazz Hero for her many years of vital work behind the scenes, abetting and advocating local jazz programs and education.

The evening emphasized the importance of persisting in art education and drew attention to how the spectrum of modern jazz has continued to expand in today’s changing landscape. We extend our congratulations to all the nominees in this annual look at the region’s vibrant and thriving jazz ecology.

NW Recording of the Year

Greg Ruby & The Rhythm Runners, Syncopated Classic

Greg Ruby began a project in 2014 to commemorate 1920s Seattle music figure Frank D. Waldron—saxophonist, cornetist, composer, bandleader, and teacher to Quincy Jones, Buddy Catlett, and others. What Ruby discovered was that Waldron left behind a singular, important artifact from his early life: Syncopated Classic, a collection of compositions published in 1924 intended for saxophone pedagogy.

Ruby began making arrangements of the music found within Syncopated Classic, finding himself relocating missing pieces from a weathered photocopy of the 32-page document. Since then, Ruby has overseen the recording and late 2017 release of two albums of Waldron’s compositions: one honors the original instrumentation of saxophone and piano while the other, now dubbed “NW Recording of the Year,” features arrangements made by Ruby for his band The Rhythm Runners (Ruby on guitar and banjo, with multi-instrumentalist Dennis Lichtman, trumpeter Gordon Au, trombonist Charlie Halloran, bassist Cassidy Holden, and drummer Julian MacDonough).

“This record was, I guess you could say, a hundred years in the making,” Ruby said while accepting his Golden Ear Award, and extending thanks to a handful of partners in his project including 4Culture, Washington State Black Heritage Society, and Seattle jazz historian Paul De Barros.

NW Acoustic Jazz Ensemble

Pearl Django

With a performance history spanning more than two decades, Pearl Django endures as one of the most highly regarded Hot Club-style groups working today. Although the band’s roots are firmly in the music made famous by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, its extensive repertoire includes traditional jazz classics and original compositions. Pearl Django has performed at festivals, dances, and nightspots throughout the U.S. and abroad. They have played at the prestigious Festival Django Reinhardt in Samois sur Seine and have been featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

The band’s signature style is marked by pristine and dexterous string work, colors of Bal Musette, the steady pulse of rhythm guitar, and an unmistakable swing that delights audiences of all musical sensibilities. Throughout the years, Pearl Django has cultivated a devoted and enthusiastic following and they continue to play to packed houses wherever they perform.

(Earshot Jazz, March 2017)

NW Alternative Jazz Group

Rik Wright’s Fundamental Forces

If you ask the band, they’re “like jazz, but not.” Rik Wright’s Fundamental Forces is an award-winning collective of modern progressive jazz players who are known for their genre-bending performances—world beat one minute, rock the next, a touch of jam band, and back to the core of jazz. Blending forward-thinking arrangements with a core groove that listeners can tap their toe to, their music has an undeniable allure that has propelled them all the way to the top of the jazz radio charts.

Wright himself is a true musical chameleon, adapting to a wide spectrum of influences. As a collective, Fundamental Forces interchange jazz-oriented freedoms and rock band rigor, a rare combination. An organic, groove-oriented style has emerged as Wright imprints his compositional voice across a songbook of robust themes and improvisations. Rik Wright’s Fundamental Forces isn’t short of receiving acclaim from a spectrum of critics, and the band has released four full-length recordings in the Top 10 of the Roots Music and CMJ Jazz radio charts.

NW Concert of the Year

Industrial Revelation Plays Björk
December 20, Neptune Theatre

Seattle’s beloved garage-jazz foursome saluted the avant-pop Goliath in the most effective way they could have: Industrial Revelation played a one-off cover performance of Björk’s Homogenic, in celebration of the groundbreaking album’s 20th anniversary. On December 20 at the Neptune Theatre, the four stellar musicians of Seattle’s mainstay—trumpeter Ahamefule J. Oluo, drummer D’Vonne Lewis, keyboardist Josh Rawlings, and bassist Evan Flory-Barnes—commemorated the Icelandic singer/songwriter’s third full-length record by performing the album, in its entirety, with backing from modern string ensemble Andrew D.B. Joslyn and the Passenger String Quartet.

Oluo says his initial hints regarding this concert came around the beginning of this year, when tributes of the Radiohead’s now two-decade-old OK Computer were surfacing left and right. A big fan of OK Computer, Oluo instead turned to another 20-year-old fundamental recording, the revered Homogenic. Reflecting on his reasoning, Olou said: “For me, 1997 was just as much defined by Homogenic, and it made me think a lot about the way we treat masterpieces made by men versus masterpieces made by women, how we idolize them, and how we choose to honor them, and how rarely men celebrate the music of women.”  This got Olou envisioning how Industrial Revelation would sound playing the incredible tunes of Homogenic, pushing him to make it happen. Additionally, the instrumental band was drawn to the challenge of covering the “pop” album, because of its unpredictable, virtuosic melodies not typically associated with the genre. “Björk, in general, and Homogenic, specifically [gave us] so much to work with,” said Olou.

(Earshot Jazz, December 2017)

NW Instrumentalist of the Year

Dawn Clement

Dawn Clement has fittingly been likened to Seattle jazz’s Wonder Woman. The pianist/composer/vocalist/educator is one of the most admired spirits in the Pacific Northwest music scene. The musical delicacy and vivaciousness of Clement’s piano playing is truly one of the most cherished treasures to be found in the belly of this artistic city.

Clement has now won four Golden Ear awards; produced six albums; recorded with drummer Matt Wilson, saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, and trombonist Julian Priester; been hailed by JazzTimes magazine as “one of the most interesting of the new crop of jazz pianists”; performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Kennedy Center; was the Earshot Jazz Festival 2017 Resident Artist; and had three kids and raised them while earning a master’s degree back east and maintaining a full round of teaching duties at Cornish College of the Arts.

NW Emerging Artist

Marina Christopher

Marina Christopher is a versatile, up-and-coming bassist/composer in the Seattle jazz scene. Her skill, cheery nature, and work ethic drive her as a freelance bassist in many musical styles. She’s got vocal chops and to boot: Christopher earned herself a spot as a finalist in the 2017 Seattle-Kobe Female Jazz Vocalist competition.

A product of Mountlake Terrace High School and Central Washington University’s strong jazz programs, Christopher went on to play in the orchestra of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, later releasing a solid album Must Love Cats with an excellent five-piece she put together. Since, she’s worked with Pacific Northwest singers including Eugenie Jones, Jacqueline Tabor, and Billy Brandt.  She can regularly be heard heading her soul band Marina and The Dreamboats, for which she also writes and arranges. The group is quickly gaining a following having shared the bill with The Hot 8 Brass Band and D’Vonne Lewis’ Limited Edition. Christopher has plans to release an album of her own music with Marina and the Dreamboats this spring.

NW Vocalist of the Year

LaVon Hardison

LaVon Hardison is more than a singer; she’s a multi-talented entertainer who simply lights up a room, raising the roof and bringing down the house. Hardison has brashness and sass when she needs it, but a warm sense of connection is her secret weapon. She has a flair for the theatrical, as well as a big sense of humor, and is as popular with fellow musicians as she is with audiences.

Boston-born and Olympia-based for 20 years, Hardison is an incisive and sensitive interpreter of not only jazz standards, but R&B/soul classics and gems of ‘60s and ‘70s pop (her superb 2016 release, Come Together, encompassed standards, The Beatles, Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach, and more). Hardison is adept at exploring original approaches and revealing hidden layers of nuance in unexpected material.

(Earshot Jazz, December 2017)

Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame

Patty Padden

Drummer Patty Padden is famed in the community and beyond for her renowned live performances with some of Seattle’s greatest jazz legends including Clarence Acox and Buddy Catlett. Recognition should also be given for Padden’s unforgettable humor, angelic vocal abilities, and inspirational outlook.

“This is a pleasant surprise. Sometimes surprises aren’t so pleasant,” said Padden, accepting her award with a positive moral. Since her chief gigging days, Padden—and her drumming—have endured the effects of multiple sclerosis. Once hopeless that her drum playing was not viable anymore, the always-malleable Padden has picked up guitar after lessons with Phil See, Seattle rock guitarist and fellow MS patient.

Accepting her Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame award in front of the roaring crowd, Padden joked: “I’m so old school that I was around before Earshot.”


Seattle’s “Dark Lord of the Saxophone,” Skerik is a longtime local icon, 2003 Earshot Jazz Northwest Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year, and far beyond a Seattle cult renown, though he absolutely amounts to that description. Skerik’s discography is anything but digestible, having appeared on a handful of albums every year since 1992.

“And he still looks the same as he did in the ‘90s!” noted Wayne Horvitz, inducting Skerik with a moving speech.

The “saxophonics” forefather has developed his sound and concepts over many years of travel, gigging, and hard work across the U.S. and around the globe, and he is in a position to speak from experience. Skerik’s uniquely uncompromising improvisational cosmology is a revolutionary force.

Special Awards

Racer Sessions at Café Racer

For maintaining the artist-run weekly jam session dedicated to free jazz and improvised music

The volunteer-driven Racer Sessions provide meaningful improvisational opportunities through recurring Sunday sessions. A product of the UW Jazz Program back in 2010, the persevering sessions have been a staple at U District’s iconic Café Racer. The beloved cafe bounced back after a mass shooting in 2012, only to struggle to stay afloat during an extended construction project on Roosevelt Way beginning in March 2016.  Through GoFundMe efforts and recent city supplementation, Café Racer will be receiving fiscal sponsorship to keep their doors open, and its product of the Racer Sessions alive as ever.

Kenny Mandell, saxophonist
For running weekly jam sessions and starting a weekend jazz festival at Couth Buzzard Books

Saxophonist, flutist, and educator Kenny Mandell has encouraged new and out-of practice players alike to get back in the scene during weekly open, all-levels jams. May 2016 launched the first Couth Buzzard Jazz Fest, featuring three full weekend days of local music out of Couth Buzzard Books in Greenwood.

Erik Hanson, Executive Director, Jazz Night School
For building a vibrant jazz-education program in the Columbia City community that is available to young and old

Hanson and the work of the Jazz Night School have proved an enduring enrichment of the Seattle Jazz scene. Founded 10 years ago by Hanson, Jazz Night School grew steadily, adding a variety of ensembles and classes for all levels, and in 2011 our community elected to become a non-profit organization. By 2012, the Jazz Night School became our area’s largest jazz program for all. We applaud the program for recognizing jazz as a civic issue; the school provides many vessels for players to grow and educational opportunities for people of all ages.


Posted on

April 30, 2018