2009 Earshot Jazz Festival gets under way Friday (Oct. 16). Artists on the roster include: Miguel Zenon, Evan Flory-Barnes, Allen Toussaint, Saadet Turkoz, Claudia Acuna, Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra and young musicians from Garfield and Roosevelt high schools.

Share story

The 2009 Earshot Jazz Festival, one of the nation’s most eclectic and protracted festivals of its kind, begins and ends its three-week run with reminders of what qualifies Seattle as a great jazz city.

Assiduously engineered by Earshot director John Gilbreath, the event, which is more of concentrated series than a festival, aims to challenge and educate as much as entertain. It brings in musicians American audiences (let alone Seattle audiences) seldom get to see — somewhat unfamiliar names who are doing much of the work of innovating and redefining of jazz.

Earshot features more than 50 concerts and also makes generous use of local talent. It opens Friday night at the Triple Door with the Garfield High School Jazz Band, which won this year’s prestigious Essentially Ellington competition in New York. Performing with the band will be Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenon, a recent winner of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, better known as the “genius grant.”

The festival closes Nov. 8 with a performance of epic scale by Seattle bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, who will lead 35 musicians and 10 dancers in a large chamber work he composed called “Acknowledgement of a Celebration.” It will be the first time this piece, which has elements of jazz, hip-hop and classical, has been performed in public.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

“Jazz is in an interesting place, and continues to get into a more interesting place,” Gilbreath said. “It’s becoming so diffuse. You used to say the word ‘jazz’ to 10 people and get 10 easy definitions, but that number has gotten a lot bigger.”

Known for staging the best of improvised and avant-garde jazz, Earshot also gives plenty of attention to more traditional forms. New Orleans pianist and singer Allen Toussaint will perform his brand of soulful, funky jazz Sunday night at the Triple Door. The Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, a festival fixture, performs two concerts Nov. 7 and 8 dedicated to the music of Ray Charles.

Young Seattle talent will be prominently represented. The Roosevelt High School Jazz Band, which finished second to Garfield at the prestigious national Essentially Ellington competition, performs Monday night at the Triple Door with the Matt Wilson Quartet. Wilson will also play with the avant-garde combo, Trio M.

Roosevelt trombone player Andy Clausen and his quartet Sjenka will open for the Tom Varner Tentet Oct. 29 in a performance of free jazz. The Bothell High School Jazz Choir will appear Nov. 7 with vocalist Greta Matassa, who teaches many of the young up-and-coming singers in the area.

Familiar, local names stud the schedule: Organist Joe Doria; trumpeters Chad McCullough, Thomas Marriot, Jay Thomas and Cuong Vu; drummers John Bishop, D’Vonne Lewis and Matt Jorgensen; pianists Marc Seales and John Hansen; saxophonists Hadley Caliman and Mark Taylor; bassists Jeff Johnson and Phil Sparks.

Among the highlights: Hard-swinging, straight-ahead quartet Tarbaby, featuring drummer Nasheet Waits and Eric Revis, bassist in the Branford Marsalis Quartet; vocalist Saadet Turkoz, who blends jazz with traditional renderings of Turkish music and poetry; Ikue Mori and Zeena Parkins Phantom Orchard, an electronic improvisation duo; the Khoomei Taiko Ensemble, which interprets ancient Mongolian and Japanese drumming traditions; the electronic-acoustic, experimental ensemble Myra Melford Be Bread; Chilean vocalist Claudia Acuna and her quintet; and drummer Greg Williamson’s A-Y-P Large Ensemble, a 16-piece band that will perform turn-of-the-century jazz, originally presented at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition.

“The festival is people who are not all marquee names,” Gilbreath said. “Jazz used to be a thing of names. People knew who Thelonius Monk was. Now, so many people contribute so richly, it’s impossible to keep up … My desire would be that people come out and take a chance on some music they are not familiar with.”

Hugo Kugiya: hkugiya@yahoo.com

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.