Once considered “devil’s music,” jazz began its Seattle takeover in earnest as early as 1918, when Washington Hall began to play host to local and traveling musicians. By the time Jelly Roll Morton rolled into town in 1920, the scene had grown enough to inspire his song “Seattle Hunch.” At the time, Jackson Park, the neighborhood just north of Seattle’s International District, was a hotbed of the city’s jazzy nightlife.
Now, most of Jackson Park’s historic jazz venues are gone, the streets lined with boarded-up houses and mom & pop Asian groceries.
“The history of jazz in Seattle is pretty amazing, but the reality of jazz on Jackson Street, is that there are almost none of the original venues,” said Knox Gardner, Director at Jackson Street Commons, a loose community of neighborhood activists working to revitalize the area.
Gardner and the Commons are working to resuscitate some of Jackson Park’s jazz scene, hosting the first annual Jackson Street Jazz Walk this Saturday to highlight local musicians and a few Jackson Street venues.
It’s an idea that has gained support from the city. “Our idea [the Walk] was selected by one of the Department of Neighborhood's P.A.C.E. teams. I helped them as a community mentor,” Knox said. P.A.C.E., or the People's Academy for Community Engagement, is a leadership academy that promotes neighborhood involvement, empowerment, and civic engagement.
All of the shows at Saturday’s jazz walk will be free, held along a string of six establishments along Jackson, between 17th and 21st.
“There are a couple new bars that have opened and I think that there's a real opportunity to reinvent Jackson from 14th up to MLK through the Central District into a vital arts and music district,” Gardner explained.
One of those new bars, El Obrero, will play host to guitarist, singer-songwriter, and rhythmic spoken word artist, Otieno Terry, who won this year’s EMP Sound Off! contest. The Dark Divas, an African-American performance group, will sing tributes to legendary female jazz artists like Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin. To close the night, Faucky, an all-male smooth jazz quartet, will serenade the lounge.
And that’s just some of what’s on display at one of the walk’s six venues.
“We don't have many venues playing jazz regularly in the Central District, but we're at a point where, at least along Jackson that might be changing,” Gardner said.
Gardner and others hope that the Jazz Walk will create an atmosphere where neighbors feel comfortable talking to one another about some of the more controversial trends their community is facing. Things like the area’s development, social and class barriers, and ongoing gentrification.
Part of that has been booking a multigenerational lineup for Saturday, when Seattle musical legends like Guy Destin and Michael Dare will groove alongside Garfield’s High School Jazz band and the University of Washington’s Jazz Underground.
“I am looking forward to a night of crowded sidewalks, packed concerts and smiles by music lovers throughout the city and having people excited for our next event on Jackson,” Gardner said.