Jazz preview: The Ballard Jazz Walk features 15 Seattle jazz stars — including Hadley Caliman, Matt Jorgensen, John Bishop and Greta Matassa — performing at 11 Ballard venues on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008.
As much a civic exercise as musical event, the Ballard Jazz Walk commences Thursday night on the streets of downtown Ballard, less than two weeks after the end of the city’s largest and longest jazz festival, Earshot.
If the timing seems curious, it might be helpful to remember that way back in the history of the event — as in five years ago — the jazz walk was part of the Earshot event and known as the Ballard Jazz Festival. Organizers presold only 28 tickets and waited anxiously, wondering if anyone would show up.
To their relief all the shows sold out. Five years later, the Ballard Jazz Walk has become its own event — the Ballard Jazz Festival was spun off into a five-day event in April — growing from five venues to 11, from five performers to 15. And it operates on its own without the aid of Earshot or the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, which initially helped sponsor the event.
The jazz walk is both a complement and antidote to Earshot. If the latter is a fine wine sipped slowly, the jazz walk is a raucous cocktail downed in a gulp. The local businesses welcome and try to capitalize on the increased foot traffic in a neighborhood already known for it.
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“This could only happen in Ballard,” said co-artistic director and drummer Matt Jorgensen of the density of bars and restaurants. “It just works here.”
Already, the festival is routinely mentioned in the marketing materials of the many condominiums sprouting around Market Street.
Musicians (some of whom were also on the Earshot lineup) will play all night in pubs, lounges, record stores, even a furniture store and a Thai restaurant, all within walking distance of one another. One ticket covers admission to all shows, a mix of traditional and modern. Most of the artists live in the region, making the jazz walk a distinctly local event. Jorgensen admitted that can be a double-edged sword.
“Being a local musician can have a negative connotation,” he said, “like you’re somehow not as good. A lot of us play all over the country. We just happen to live here.”
From which comes the strength of the schedule. Many of the area’s top musicians will lead their own groups and share the stage with one another: Hadley Caliman, Greta Matassa, Jay Thomas, Mark Taylor, Thomas Marriott, Cuong Vu, Wayne Horvitz, John Hansen and Phil Sparks among others.
The jazz walk is in part a marketing tool, along with the spring jazz festival, of the independent jazz label Origin Records, started by Jorgensen and his former drum teacher John Bishop (both are also performing in the jazz walk) in the Ballard apartment building they both used to live in. Origin endeavors to do for jazz what Sub Pop did for rock in the 1980s and ’90s, cultivating local talent for universal consumption.
Hugo Kugiya: firstname.lastname@example.org