Bellwether Jazz Festival

Summer’s swinging swan song

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

As the days grow shorter and summer begins to wane, so too do opportunities to take in free, family-friendly, al fresco musical entertainment. Where you could once see a variety of local music at least a couple of times a week in some of Bellingham’s most scenic locales, you’ll now find mostly falling leaves and silence.

It’s a hard reality, but the Port of Bellingham is here to save the day with one last summer swan song.

I’m well aware that, to many, the idea of the Port saving the day is a slightly unusual concept. Speaking plainly, as the steward of both the waterfront and the airport—and therefore most things related to trade and travel around these parts—the Port often finds itself at the center of controversy. To a certain degree, this is to be expected, as the real estate the Port oversees is of vital importance to our corner of the world and the Port’s future plans will help determine the character of our community as a whole. Given everything that’s at stake—and taking into account Bellingham’s always-engaged and ever-informed citizenry—it comes as no surprise the Port would be the subject of ongoing and spirited debate.

But sometimes we all need a break from the strum und drang long enough to celebrate some of these open spaces and remind ourselves why they’re so important in the first place. Along with those duties that we typically associate with the Port, part of their mission is to encourage use of those Port properties that are available to and designed for the public. And since music is the heartbeat of this arts-loving community, what better way to show off its outdoor gems than with a music festival?

However, no Port is an island (and not just because that statement makes no sense), and so to plan their sonic soiree, they had the good judgment to call upon someone with deep roots in the music scene and community at large.

As the founder and director of the Jazz Project, Jud Sherwood is one of Bellingham’s most passionate and well-known advocates for the storied tradition of jazz. While many genres of music seem to get an effortless toehold in this area, others require more careful nurturing, education and outreach efforts. When Sherwood founded the Jazz Project nearly 20 years ago, the jazz scene here was nascent, a bit scattered and in need of some stewardship. Proving himself the man for the job, Sherwood via the Jazz Project has created opportunities for musicians, helped to foster an audience for jazz in this region and been responsible for putting a whole lot of music into our personal atmosphere. These days, our jazz community is more robust than ever before, and bright lines can be drawn back to Sherwood and his Jazz Project when tracing the genre’s modern roots here.

So, who better then, to partner with the Port for a yearly celebration of all things jazz in one of the most stunning locations Bellingham has to offer, Tom Glenn Common, otherwise known as that gorgeous grassy knoll near the Hotel Bellwether?

Beginning at 1pm Sat., Sept. 6, Tom Glenn Common will ring with the sounds of the fourth annual Bellwether Jazz Festival, and as summertime swan songs go, this one’s got some things going for it. First, it’s free, family-friendly, lasts into the evening hours and the setting is such that the natural beauty could threaten to tear at least a portion of your rapt attention away from the music.

But if Sherwood has his way, that will not be the case. With a mix of jazz from different traditions but all designed for active listening (and dancing), this is not the stuff of your grandpa’s long-playing smooth jazz albums. Up first is Jennifer Scott’s Brasileria, an ensemble that embodies the jazz traditions of its namesake country in all its lively and exotic glory. After that is when jazz will find its groove in the form of Blues Union, a well-known—and very well-liked—quantity in Bellingham that features John Carswell on the Hammond B-3 and none other than Sherwood himself on drums, plus a couple of their music cohorts. Following them, in the early evening, will be the Mark Taylor and Bill Anschell Quartet, who will bring expert and inventive saxophone and piano playing to this mix. Closing out this year’s festival will be the EntreMundos Quarteto, who will put their own spin on Latin jazz, led by accomplished Brazilian vocalist Adriana Giordano.

I can’t claim that by the end of the Bellwether Jazz Festival that you’ll be ready to say goodbye to summer (because that would be sacrilege), but I can certain avow that the event is a fine way to cap off what has certainly been an excellent season for outdoor music in Bellingham.

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