Earshot Jazz Festival, spread over five weeks at 25 locations and concluding Sunday, did well in connecting fans, showcasing local talent, and accenting musical and cultural diversity. But it lacks high-profile names to draw more mainstream fans.

Share story

After 58 concerts over five weeks at 25 locations, the sprawling annual marathon known as the Earshot Jazz Festival comes to an end Sunday.

It’s been quite a ride.

Part of the fun has been going to so many different venues, from Jazz Alley, the Seattle Art Museum and the Neptune Theatre to the Chapel Performance Space, the Royal Room and Bake’s Place, in Bellevue. In fact, if you’re new in town — as so many people are these days — Earshot offers a good cross-section of the region’s diverse music venues.


Earshot Jazz Festival

Through Sunday Nov. 12 at various Seattle venues; $8-$35 (206-547-6763 or earshot.org).

The festival’s spread and length also offer a good starting point for talking about what Earshot does and does not offer Seattle’s avid fans, a community so devoted that it ponied up $7 million last year to buy radio station KPLU — now called KNKX — just to keep jazz on the air.

Let’s start with the upside, which includes how well the festival connected fans this year while also accenting musical and cultural diversity. Sometimes this meant falling into a conversation about Thelonious Monk with a fellow jazz lover at Bellevue’s elegant eatery, Bake’s Place, as pianist Dawn Clement mischievously plunked a note behind the sultry vocals of Johnaye Kendrick.

Other times, it was just being part of a crowd that included many Japanese-Americans, which packed the Japanese Cultural and Community Center to hear Paul Kikuchi’s intensely moving “9066,” an electronic re-imagining of vintage ethnic 78 rpm records played as a soundtrack to haunting films of the World War II internment camps.

And then there was the night at the Seattle Art Museum’s Plestcheeff Auditorium when lovers of poetry and jazz came together to hear madcap drummer Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt celebrate the cheeky populist poetry of Carl Sandburg.

Bringing folks together from different neighborhoods, age groups, musical tastes and ethnic backgrounds this way is something special that music can do, and Earshot did it often and well this year.

Earshot also did a good job showcasing local talent. Pianist Marc Seales’ night at Jazz Alley was a family affair featuring his brother Jesse on electric guitar and the much-loved ex-Seattle drummer Moyes Lucas. Their gracefully soulful foray into jazz-funk inspired by Herbie Hancock was a nice reminder that jazz is a music meant for pleasure, not just furrowed brows.

Earshot deserves plaudits as well for continuing to introduce Seattle listeners to new national talent. At the Royal Room, young Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill’s fiery show with stellar vibraphonist Joel Ross will no doubt be the most talked-about show of the 2017 festival.

If you don’t follow jazz closely, by now you may be asking yourself, “Who are all these people?” And that’s a problem. Though Earshot occasionally picks up a high-profile player like Keith Jarrett, the organization’s executive director, John Gilbreath, prefers to focus on what he calls “the progression of the art form.”

That is laudable, but it means that mainstream fans — the very ones who got KNKX on the air — do not attend as many concerts as they might.

Take John Kingston, who was at trombonist Wycliffe Gordon’s bluesy, fun-loving concert with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra at the Kirkland Performance Center this past Sunday.

“If I recognized more of the names, I might go to other shows,” Kingston said.

Ironically, two of the best-known players on this year’s roster, vocalist Gregory Porter and pianist Brad Mehldau, were disappointments. Porter, who was ill, fled after singing 35 minutes, and the usually brilliant Mehldau offered a jejune solo survey of classic ’60s rock hits. Clearly, fame is no guarantee. But Earshot could gain a lot by widening its tent.

The festival’s length also works against it. Even a die-hard fan like David Emerson, who buys an all-festival pass and attends as many as 35 shows, acknowledged this year’s sagging middle.

All that said, Gilbreath says the Earshot Jazz Festival filled 12,000-15,000 seats and squeezed a lot of value out of its relatively small $225,000 budget.

There’s more to come, including jazz-rockers The Bad Plus, Barcelona bassist Giulia Valle and more shows by festival artist-in-residence Clement, who plays with her band LineUp!

Whether one of those concerts will be your 35th or your first, you are likely to take home a memorable musical and community experience.