The 2012 edition of the Ballard Jazz Festival features the excellent Philadelphia pianist Orrin Evans, who is a jazz activist in his community, much as Ballard Festival producers John Bishop and Matt Jorgensen are in Seattle.
Jazz has always relied on the commitment of grass-roots activist-musicians. It would be hard to find two more committed souls in that department than drummers Matt Jorgensen and John Bishop who, with their feisty record label, Origin, produce the Ballard Jazz Festival, which opens Wednesday.
Fittingly, one of this year’s headliners is an activist-musician himself, the dynamic Philadelphia pianist Orrin Evans. Though Evans is a New York journeyman, he lives in Philly, where he nurtures the scene with such projects as the Captain Black Big Band, a group Down Beat magazine critics recently called a “rising star.”
“I try to be present,” said the pianist on the phone, as he drove from Philadelphia to a Manhattan gig, earlier this week. “I bring things back, from wherever I go, whether it’s New York or Japan, to keep adding to the scene.”
With Evans, as with Seattle jazzers, local pride runs deep. In talking about influences, he’s as likely to mention Philadelphia keyboard legends Trudy Pitts and Shirley Scott as Kenny Barron or Ralph Bowen, the teachers he encountered at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts.
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Evans is also passionate about the African-American roots of jazz — he came up in the black church — which you can hear in his soulful swing and knotty, percussive attack, qualities that have earned him slots with Bobby Watson, Sean Jones, Branford Marsalis, Nicholas Payton and the Mingus Big Band.
Evans has released a series of albums as a leader for the Posi-tone and Criss Cross labels but his next release is a collaboration on Origin with the Seattle band Human Spirit (Jorgensen, saxophonist Mark Taylor and trumpeter Thomas Marriott), recorded live at Tula’s last October during the Earshot Jazz Festival. It’s a smokin’ outing.
The Ballard fest affords an opportunity for a rematch (with Phil Sparks on bass) at the Ballard Jazz Walk April 20. Evans appears again April 21 on the main stage at the Nordic Heritage Museum with Jorgensen, Geof Bradfield (saxophones) and Clark Sommers (bass). The double bill also features the great guitarist Bobby Broom, who toured for years with Sonny Rollins.
With 11 venues, the Ballard Jazz Walk is one of the joys of the Seattle jazz calendar, as the community saunters down the sidewalk, darting in and out of clubs like it was Mardi Gras. It’s the kind of celebration Evans says he can get behind.
“I want Origin to be on the tip of everybody’s tongue, from Seattle to Florida,” he says.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org