Ballard Jazz Festival
Wednesday, April 16–Saturday, April 19
April in Seattle can mean only a few things: a few teasingly beautiful days of clear blue sky; the hope that accompanies the Mariners opening day; and of course the annual Ballard Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 12th year, the festival has come into its own as both a destination for jazz aficionados and as a yearly gathering for some of Seattle’s best and brightest musicians.
This year’s lineup is as eclectic as it’s ever been, with organizers keen to bring a variety of performers, local and otherwise, traditionalists and forward-thinkers alike. Much like other staid or older genres (say, blues or folk), jazz continues to struggle to find younger audiences and push the greater public’s perceptions past the older big-band or minor-key quartet stuff our grandparents used to tap a foot to.
Christopher Icasiano, head of Tables and Chairs, the local music label that hosts a weekly improvisation showcase at Café Racer, sees the fest as a prime means to that end. “Traditionally, the idea around jazz is that it has to fit into a very specific style to be considered ‘jazz,’ ” he says. “Ultimately, that style and that approach doesn’t really reflect our time. The people that I play with and the music that I like . . . there’s more rock or metal or contemporary classical-music elements added to it as opposed to just swing, I guess.”
A quick scan of the festival’s lineup bears out that approach. Along with giants of the genre, like saxophonist Sonny Fortune and Latin pianist Chano Dominguez, are a variety of eyebrow-raising acts—like CavityFang, a band with three different drummers, and King Tears Bat Trip, a guitar-only group that tunes all its strings to the same note.
As time marches on, the lines between specific music genres grow increasingly blurry. Rappers sample rock; country artists regularly incorporate disco drumbeats into their songs. Jazz is not immune to these nascent shifts. By embracing the new and the weird, the festival in Ballard is positioning itself as a can’t-miss event for fans of all music and a vital bridge to the future vitality of jazz itself. See ballardjazzfestival.com for complete lineup and venue details. Single tickets $12 and up, festival passes $100–$250.