Jazz Walk

Of musical meanderings

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Bellingham is a town of walkers.

I’m not talking about the flesh-chewing zombies of The Walking Dead—Bellingham might have its issues, but it’s a far cry from being a post-apocalyptic hellscape.

I’m referring to actual walking, an activity that is boring on its own, but, when paired with art and entertainment, becomes an exceedingly desirable way to pass the time. And we need little reason and even less of an excuse to don sensible shoes and take to the sidewalks on a regular basis.

Every month, we can be found art walking hither and yon. Come Fri., Nov. 10, many of us will do a little wine walking, which is the definition of a good walk unspoiled. We’ll happily walk, sometimes through the night, to raise money on behalf of various worthy causes and to bring awareness to issues and ailments, diseases and disorders. In what is no doubt our strangest display of annual ambulatory art, we don homemade and often elaborate animal costumes and undertake the Procession of the Species.

But for a town so totally steeped in sound, we have no official event celebrating meandering of the musical kind.

Julian MacDonough, founder of Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center, intends to change all that on Thurs., Nov. 16 with the inaugural WJMAC Jazz Walk. Like the other walks I mentioned, this one is focused in Bellingham’s downtown core, and during the course of the evening you’ll have the opportunity to see 13 solo acts, duos, trios, quartets, full bands and even one orchestra, all taking place in the infinite interpretive exercise that is playing jazz.

Given that WJMAC makes its home at the Sylvia Center for the Arts, some of the action will happen there, including an appearance by erstwhile Bellinghamster Delvon Lamarr as part of disORGANized, and, in keeping with MacDonough’s penchant for importing talent from far-flung places, New York City drummer Ari Hoenig will perform as well. Across the street, Make.Shift will host Milo Petersen, Hot House Jazz Band, and Casey MacGill Orchestra.

From there, Jazz Walk will take you to some less traditional music venues, and to my way of thinking, the ability to wander from one smallish spot to another, each having the feel of an intimate jazz lounge, is one of the more engaging aspects of this endeavor.

At Bayou on Bay, you’ll find Joe Doria and Zoo Patrol to go along with your gumbo and mojitos. Sip some coffee (black, of course) at the Black Drop Coffee House to a soundtrack of the Dawn Clement/Mark Taylor Duo and the Blake Angelos Trio. Quaff another cup and enjoy a snack along with sets by Gail Pettis, Kevin Woods, and Alicia Dauber at Caffe Adagio.

Treating people to a surfeit of jazz is the obvious goal of the Jazz Walk, but MacDonough says the event is intended to be more than just entertainment.

“The idea for a jazz walk arose as a way to raise awareness of [WJMAC] by getting more bands out of our space at the Sylvia Center and into the town as well as try to raise funds for our educational programs,” he says.

When I think of WJMAC, my tendency is to fix my gaze upon its concert schedule—and for a fairly small nonprofit arts organization with more passion than resources, they bring talent to town in amounts and with a frequency best described as “ridiculous”—but performing for us is just one piece of what they do. The teaching component of WJMAC, although not as visible, is just as important as the concert aspect, and when MacDonough hatched his Jazz Walk plan, he did so giving equal consideration to the general public, his students and the performers themselves.

“I’m looking forward to seeing local bands and regional and national bands all sharing the same stage,” he says. “I’m looking forward to having the students get to see myriad different styles of jazz in one night. And I’m excited that I get to expose people to one of my favorite drummers on the planet, Ari Hoenig from New York City.”

As with anything that has never been done before, MacDonough has no way of knowing what kind of success the first Jazz Walk will be met with, but his experience helming WJMAC has shown him that Bellingham has an appetite for all things jazz.

“We are entering our fourth season, and the community support has been amazing,” he says. “We hear about that from the bands that come here from New York and Los Angeles and all around the country to play our town. Bellingham is getting a name for itself as a great place to hear and perform jazz concerts.”

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