Jim Knodle Photo courtesy of Theo Dzielak
Couth Buzzard Books
8310 Greenwood Ave N
Jazz is a uniting force: that’s how musician-in-residence, saxophonist Kenneth Mandel, describes the core of the Greenwood bookstore/all-ages venue Couth Buzzard Books’ third annual community jazz festival. An outgrowth of the Couth’s numerous monthly jams— ranging from blues and free jazz to Celtic and Brazilian choro—the all-ages festival continues this year with a four-day program which covers both old and new.
“We try and give people a loose historical survey of jazz, featuring the very best in local talent. Those are the two cornerstones,” poet and store owner Theo Dzielak tells Earshot Jazz one drizzly Saturday morning in between checking stock, pumping espressos, and dialing down the scratchy-sounding big band playing on the eclectic, book-lined space’s sound system.
“That was the design of the bookstore, to be a community spot, to all communities,” he says. “The jazz festival has the same foundation.”
Beginning with roots of jazz, the festival begins Friday with swing trio the Jump Monkeys and guitarist Orville Johnson, creating ties with the venue’s lively folk and acoustic scene. Says Dzielak of Johnson: “He’s like a walking encyclopedia of early music, anything from old folk-y blues stuff, to the bridge from when blues moved into the early jazz era.”
On Saturday, the festival highlights vocalists, including Gillian Klein, Julie Cresswell, Jean Mishler, and Scotty Lee, backed by Couth all-stars Lance Lu on drums and Al Pignatoro on guitar. After the Brad Papineau trio—playing in tribute to the late Seattle pianist and composer Al Hood—the Northwest’s “sound of jazz” himself Jim Wilke hosts the festival’s annual tribute band, dedicated this year to Miles Davis. The group includes session regulars Mikel Rollins on bass, Mike Connors on baritone sax, and Katie Webster on alto sax—though one instrument will remain noticeably absent.
“Jenny Ziefel is going to play the trumpet parts on clarinets,” says Mandel. “The other day she said: ‘It’s very curious you’re going to have a white, female clarinetist playing Miles Davis’ part.’ Why not? …My understanding of Miles Davis was that you don’t get stuck in the past, you always move forward.”
Sunday opens with a festival edition of the Couth’s open jazz jam, the gathering space for players who range from high schoolers (including students from Ballard and Montlake Terrace) to retirees. The jam is followed by the Seth Alexander Group, “a great composer and player,” according to Mandel, who echoes as much enthusiasm for old friends as for his young music students. Closing Sunday night is the My Favorite Things band, which includes Don Berman on drums, Dick Valentine on woodwinds, Mart Hasegawa on bass, and special guest Bruce Barnard on guitar.
Monday, a day of experiment, covers the shape of jazz to come. As Mandel explains, “[it] features a lot of people in solo and duo contexts where they get to play whatever they want. They don’t have to adjust their set for us.” These include guitarists Matt Benham and Simon Henneman; one half of Bad Luck, saxophonist Neil Welch; and Jim Knodle, the hard-working veteran trumpet player and improvisor whom Mandel rates “like the Don Cherry of Seattle.” Sunday’s program also includes electro-harpist Carol J. Levin, percussionist Schraepfer Harvey, and Ziefel in their elegantly shocking trio The Likes Of, and finishes with the CD release concert of Mandel’s 3 Corners project, with guitarist Tim Volpicella and keyboardist Curtis Dahl.
Funded through public support, including an Indiegogo campaign, the festival follows the open-minded philosophy that the festival’s organizers—social activists of the Vietnam era—apply day in and day out in their work teaching and organizing within the community. At least, that’s part of what brought Dzielak, a former public defense attorney, and Mandel, who’s experienced managing food-cooperatives, together in the first place.
“I’m not St. John the Baptist in the desert or anything…anybody can knock on doors and ask others to participate,” the latter says about his role with typical New York flair, “It’s all about inclusiveness…for me the purpose is: let’s collaborate, what can we do together?”
And watching yet another musician carrying an instrument case come in through the door as the store starts buzzing with curious visitors, locals, and book browsers taking their morning coffee, it’s hard to imagine what we can’t.
For a complete schedule and ticket info for the Couth Buzzard Community Jazz Festival, visit buonobuzzard.com.