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Jazz Guitar in the City of Technology, Airplanes, and Coffee



JGT guest contributor Joe Barth takes a look at the many famous musicians, clubs, and universities from around Seattle, Washington.

Jazz wasa part of Seattle’s history from the early 20thcentury.Jackson Street in downtown was like a mini 42ndstreet in New York. All of the great players of the day came through town andworked the two dozen nightclubs anddancehalls around the corner of 12thand Jackson. It was there that some up-and-coming artists like trumpeter QuincyJones, vocalists Ray Charles, and Ernestine Anderson cut their musicalteeth.Not thought of as a jazzguitarist, JimiHendrix, would push jazz guitarists into the fusion era withhis virtuosic use of distortion.MilesDavis, who could readthe “winds” of where jazz was going, wished deeply to getHendrix in his band.

Thoughisolated from New York, Seattle has been the home of a number of greatguitarists.Born in Phoenix andworkingin the studios of Los Angeles, in later life Howard Roberts lived and playedaround the Seattle area. Millionsheard his guitar every time they tuned in andthat haunting theme would begin the Twilight Zone television show.

Born inTexas, Larry Coryell’s family moved to Richland, WA so his father could work atthe Hanford project.Larrymoved toSeattle to attend the University of Washington before going on to NewYork.I remember his high schoolguitarteacher, John LaChapelle, telling me “Larry had so much talent, I could haveput the phone book in front of himand he would have made great music.” Larryis credited as one who ushered in fusion style jazz.

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Thoughborn in Baltimore and growing up in the Denver area, Bill Frisell moved toSeattle in 1988 living on nearbyBainbridge Island.During his Seattle era, Bill recorded two ofhis early acclaimed albums,Have a LittleFaithandThisLand.Also, during this time, he became goodfriends withThe Far SidecartoonistGary Larson who himself playsjazz guitar as a hobby. Gary studied with RemoPalmier and Herb Ellis and provided the cover art for Ellis’Doggin’Aroundalbum.Bill Frisell has since relocated to Brooklyn,NY but returns to the Seattle area to occasionally lectureand perform at theUniversity of Washington.

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Seattle’sBrian Nova was mentored by and toured with Herb Ellis and Joe Pass. In fact,Joe Pass “adopted” Brian askind of a musical son. When very sick, the greatguitarist and his wife wanted Brian to be with Joe when died in LosAngeles.Brian has performed with thelikes of Stanley Turrentine, Tom Scott, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, andJimmySmith.Brian is heard often around theSeattle area.

TimLerch is another first-call guitarist in the Seattle area.Comfortable in different settings, Tim’sTelecaster playingcomes out of the Ted Greene tradition.Then, Tim can be seen playing outstandinggypsy jazz with Seattle’s PearlDjango.

Wonderfulplayer and vintage guitar owner, the late Michael Biller started the SeattleJazz Guitar Society thatpromotes jazz in the Puget Sound area.The Society is now run by Matthew Benham whois a fine player in the area.DavePeterson has been on the scene for over forty years and has taught at theprestigious Cornish College of theArts. Tacoma guitarist, Neil Andersson,though retired from Pearl Django, a Hot Club Swing group he founded andrecorded fourteen albums with, continues to be active playing duets with fellowguitarist Peter Pendras.

TheSeattle club known around the world is Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley whereonecan hear artists like Pat Metheny, BillFrisell,or Chick Corea to name a few. The Royal Room and The Triple Door also presentworld-renowned artists ontheir mainstage and the Triple Door also hostslocal musicians in its lounge area.Grumpy D’s, Café Racer, The Owland Thistle,and Egan’s Ballard Jam House all feature local jazz artists. My own communityof North Bend hasBoxleys and the Jazz Clubs Northwest which features Seattle’sbest as well as the occasional world-renown artist.

EveryFall the Earshot Jazz Festival brings world-renown jazz artists as well as thebest of local musicians tonumerous stages around the Seattle area.Tacoma, Port Townsend, Bellevue, and manyother Puget Soundcommunities have their own annual jazz festivals.

TheUniversity of Washington has an outstanding jazz department the guitar studentwill study technique with MichaelPartington and have the occasionalopportunity to study with Bill Frisell.

Milo Petersen who is an excellent jazz guitarist in the area oversees a great guitar program along with Jim Sisko at Bellevue College.  Seattle Pacific University’s guitar program is led by Julian Catford.

This article was written with research assistance from Kirk Painter and Matthew Benham.

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