The upcoming Seattle Women in Jazz Festival is drawing talent from around the country. It’s all thanks to Jessica Davis, a jazz vocalist whose idea and efforts are bringing this first-of-a-kind event to life here this month.
The festival runs Friday, April 26, through Sunday, April 28, and will take place in five different venues. It will feature jazz band performances led by or comprised of women. The lineup includes Stephanie Porter, with her tribute to Sarah Vaughan; Cuban-influenced jazz band Clave Gringa; local vocalist Jeannette d’Armand; and the New York-based Sarah Charles Quartet.
The festival is sponsored by the nonprofit Shunpike and the historical Hotel Max in Seattle, which will offer discounts to anyone coming from out of town for the event.
“It will have something for everyone’s tastes: modern jazz, classical jazz, Cuban-style jazz — all will be highlighted at the festival,” Davis said.
The mission of this festival is to promote the talented women jazz artists to the Seattle community and introduce jazz music to a new younger crowd.
“I think jazz is underappreciated, and I think it’s mainly because there’s a major misconception of it,” Davis said. “Many people don’t realize that it’s really an umbrella for many musical styles and influences; it has something for everyone in it. And it’s only appropriate that it originated in the United States: It’s all about freedom of expression, something our country was founded on. But we don’t embrace it like we should. It isn’t played on the radio as much as other styles of music, and I think that contributes to the problem.”
On the last day of the festival, the all-ages Vera Project venue (205 Warren Ave. N.) will highlight young artists in their 20s. The cost for each concert throughout the festival will be $15 at all of the other venues, except for this one, where the entrance fee will be based on a suggested donation. That way they are hoping to provide the younger audience with a chance to be exposed to jazz music and become aware of all the different styles out there, Davis said.
Supporting a passion
Born in Tacoma, Wash., Davis was exposed to jazz in early childhood, listening to the Glenn Miller Orchestra during travels with her grandmother. While living in Germany at age 12, she got her first jazz cassette from a local jazz combo.
When she was 21, a friend introduced her to live jazz at a concert by Floyd Standifer in Seattle. After her friend passed away, Davis continued to attend jazz concerts in his memory.
She also took a jazz singing lesson at Seattle Central Community College and gradually became a big part of the Seattle jazz community. She has performed live with such artists as Buddy Catlett, Ronnie Pierce and Greg Schroeder.
“I am proud to represent and support a form of music that allows freedom in creative thought and expression,” she said. “Not only have I enjoyed listening to the variety of sounds and styles that jazz embraces — from bebop to swing — I have also been privileged to meet some extraordinary people along the way.”
She puts on concerts around Seattle; works as a freelance publicist for jazz artists in New York, Seattle and Florida; and is currently working on a documentary featuring Quincy Jones, Clark Terry, Ernestine Anderson, Buddy Catlett and a number of other artists who played together in the Seattle area in the 1940s and 1950s.
And that’s far from the end of a long list of her accomplishments. The idea to put on a Women in Jazz Festival came to her when she heard about a similar festival happening in Washington, D.C.
“I got to thinking, ‘Why don’t we have something like that in Seattle?’ We have such a great musical history in Seattle; it seemed like a natural fit. So I got to working on it,” Davis said.
With help from friends, she began to put everything together. Once the word was out, she got a lot of response from both local and international jazz artists interested in performing in the festival. Due to budget limits, Davis explained, it wasn’t possible to accommodate everyone this year, but she is hoping that, if the festival gets enough attention, she will have more freedom and possibilities in the future.
“It’s a tremendous thing that Jessica is putting it all together,” said Jeannette d’Armand, who will perform on April 26 at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center (3515 S. Alaska St) in support of her recently released debut CD, “Stage Road.” “The response is very good among the artists. We are eager to participate and be a part of it. Jessica has so much passion for it, and we’d like to support it.”
The festival will award a $1,000 Red Holloway Memorial scholarship to a female jazz artist from Seattle Public Schools, and the winner will perform at The Vera Project venue.
A close friend of Davis’, Holloway died more than a year ago at age 84. In his career, he played with such jazz greats as Billie Holiday and Muddy Waters. His family is supporting a growing artist in his memory with the scholarship. One of Holloway’s daughters will fly in from Chicago to be at the winner’s performance.
“There is something really special about Jessica,” said Skeie Berg, the social-media and artist-relations manager for the festival. “She is doing this [festival] to give back to the community. It is really exciting to see someone do something like that.”
Berg and Davis are building up a presence in the social-media world, through which they are promoting the festival. The Twitter and Facebook profiles also contain historical jazz facts.
Right now, Davis finds herself spending every free hour of the day and night to work on this enormous project.
“I never could have predicted that jazz would become such a major part of my life — that’s really the biggest surprise,” she said. “If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be making a jazz documentary with Quincy Jones, producing my own jazz TV show, editing a jazz magazine, offering up my kidney to a jazz musician, organizing my own jazz festival and hanging out with some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world, I would have thought you were crazy. But it’s all true!”
For more information about performances, visit www.SeattleWomenInJazz.com.
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