Earshot Jazz is gearing up for opening night of its first virtual festival on Friday, Oct. 16.

It’s challenging new territory, but Earshot executive director John Gilbreath thinks the community will rise to the occasion.

“I heard another presenter say early on in all this that when a church burns down, the preacher’s first job is not to rebuild the church,” he says. “It’s to keep the congregation together.”


Though just half the size of the usual Earshot marathon, this year’s all-digital edition — which runs through Nov. 8 — is hefty, nonetheless. It features three concerts by the festival’s resident artist, beloved Seattle trumpet player, composer and performance artist Ahamefule J. Oluo, who will offer two screenings of a new, music-only video edit of last year’s On the Boards theatrical piece “Susan.” A portrait of his mother, it is an excellent follow-up to his acclaimed “Now I’m Fine.” Oluo will also livestream a performance of his new quartet from the Royal Room.

The festival opens with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, son of John Coltrane, in a quartet that includes Brandee Younger, an extraordinary young jazz harpist who counts as an influence the spiritual music of the younger Coltrane’s mother, Alice.

Seattle fans will also be pleased to see a duo concert by bassist and Jazz Port Townsend Festival director John Clayton and his son, pianist Gerald Clayton; a solo show by guitarist and former Seattleite Bill Frisell; a performance by Jade Solomon Curtis, a Donald Byrd Spectrum Dance Theater soloist, with new saxophone star Lakecia Benjamin; and a reprise by members of the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra of its wonderful Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” show.


A host of other top-flight Seattle players are on the schedule, as well, including pianists Marina Albero, Wayne Horvitz and Jovino Santos Neto; vocalists Johnaye Kendrick, Reggie Goings and Elnah Jordan; fiddler Ben Hunter; and trumpeter Thomas Marriott. In addition to concerts, the Earshot Jazz Festival showcases films and panel discussions.

Festival events will be a mix of livestreams and prerecorded shows, but the streaming platform Earshot uses — offered by PatronManager, which also does the festival’s ticketing — does not offer a pay-per-view option. Ticket-buyers can only watch each show once, in real time.

Because of the extraordinary impact of the pandemic on incomes, tickets are priced quite low, on a sliding scale, from $10-$25, though Earshot is encouraging patrons to pay $50 for a “household” ticket if more than one person will be watching. Fans will be able to make extra donations online to artists and to Earshot, which is also setting aside 20 free tickets for each show. (For tickets and schedule information, call 206-547-6763 or go to earshot.org.)

“We want tickets to be really accessible and we also understand that there are people out there who will pay more money,” says Gilbreath. “So we’ve got kind of an honor system … But if you can afford $10, please buy your ticket, because there are a lot of people who can’t afford even that.”

Will folks tune in? Even Gilbreath admits it’s kind of a stretch for people who spend all day working at a computer to “curl up at night in front of their laptop” to watch a concert. But he is cautiously optimistic. The series Earshot streamed from Town Hall last spring picked up 200-400 viewers per show, and the Royal Room’s Staycation Festival last spring also did well, with one show bringing in a $1,000 donation.

It just could be that Seattle’s jazz “congregation” is hungry enough that it won’t matter if all the pews virtual.