Notes on All That Jazz in the Seattle Scene
SOUTH of downtown Seattle lies an underground city. For a few dollars, visitors can tour some musty buildings upon which the modern city is built.
A few blocks to the southeast is an area whose rich history was also buried by modernization until Paul de Barros unearthed it. His book ``Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle'' is a survey of the city's often-overlooked contributions to the jazz world - as well as jazz's contributions to Seattle.
Ernestine Anderson, Ray Charles, Fats Waller, Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington, the Black and Tan, the 411 Club, the Blue Note - this readable volume contains extensive detail about the players and clubs of the Seattle jazz scene, from the shows of the greats to the practical jokes of the unknowns.
Despite its geographical isolation, Seattle never really developed a unique, original jazz ``sound.''
``The Seattle scene was steeped in tradition, not in experiment....'' de Barros explains. ``No matter how `far out' musicians in the region seem to go, there is always a strain of healthy conservatism about line, blues, and traditional jazz feeling that anchors them, a graceful balance of heaven and earth.''
Music, of course, does not exist in a vacuum, and de Barros touches on the economic and racial context that kept blacks out of downtown and professional jobs, giving them few opportunities other than those available on the Jackson Street scene.
Still, Seattle's racial barriers were softer than those of other cities, de Barros writes, and this attracted some musicians to the city. While interracial marriages were illegal in neighboring Oregon, mixed couples were common along Jackson Street. There was some musical integration as well, though separate black and white musicians' unions were maintained until 1958.
Through photographs, reproductions of tickets and posters, and detailed accounts of clubs and the activities they supported - illegal gambling, prostitution, and alcohol as well as music - de Barros paints a living picture of this urban subculture and the changes it underwent over time. Especially rich is the liberal use of quotes from musicians and observers of the scene and a series of contemporary photographs of local musicians by Eduardo Calderon.
De Barros doesn't try to convince the reader that Seattle was ever the capital of the jazz world. But through recording its history, he shows that it was part of that world and is much the richer for it.
``Jackson Street After Hours'' is a welcome history not only of the Seattle music scene but also of the city's black population, often ignored or overlooked by other historians.