January 2013, Vol. 29, No. 01

Two for Jazz on Capitol Hill
current_issue
Photo of Adam Kessler and Steve O'Brien by Daniel Sheehan

Adam Kessler & Phil Sparks
Thursdays at Barca
1510 11th Ave

Steve O’Brien Trio
Mondays at Still Liquor
1524 Minor Ave

 

Other Cap Hill Weeklies

Monktail Creative Music Concern
Electric Tea Garden
1402 E Pike St

Careless Lovers
Via Tribunali
913 E Pike St

Swing dances
Century Ballroom
915 E Pine St

Adam Kessler & Phil Sparks
Thursdays at Barca
1510 11th Ave

Seattle drummer Adam Kessler has found a niche in hip and densely populated Capitol Hill. Along with Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame bassist Phil Sparks, Kessler has been hosting the weekly jazz collective at Barça for six years. During the December art walk night I stopped by, Kessler and Sparks had teamed up with self-taught phenomenon Bernie Jacobs on vocals, flute and saxophone.

After the show, Kessler invites me and a friend to join him for a slice at Big Mario’s Pizza. We chat about the jazz scene on Capitol Hill. “Barça does well. They have a built-in crowd,” he says between bites of pepperoni pizza. “All we had to do was provide good music.” Barca gives him the freedom to recruit great guest musicians, and they end up with consistently strong music as a result. The venue, the staff and Kessler prove to be a good fit. “I’m perfectly content to be there every week,” he adds. Despite my protests, Kessler picks up our tab, insisting that the audience had tipped well.

The drummer’s generosity can also be found in his many musical endeavors. In 2010 and 2011, he traveled to Zimbabwe to participate in the annual Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) with jazz ensemble Publish the Quest, including Jacob Bain (vocals, acoustic guitar), Jeff DeMelle (electric bass), Chris Pogue (keyboards and bari sax), Mark Oi (electric guitar), Samantha Boshnak (trumpet) and Izaak Mills (tenor sax). In addition to performing in the festival, they brought children’s clothes, school supplies and instruments to donate to an orphanage and the Parkare Paye Arts Centre, an arts and music haven for children in Norton, a small farming town some distance from Harare where the HIFA festival takes place. Oliver Mtukudzi founded the center in 2003 to provide a nurturing environment for children to pursue music, dance, drama, poetry and storytelling.

Back home, Kessler gives private lessons, teaches at Yanvalou Drum School, an African and Afro-Caribbean drum and dance school founded by Blake Cisneros, and teaches workshops and after school jazz programs at Pinehurst Elementary, Washington Middle School, and Roosevelt and Garfield High Schools. He also provides percussion accompaniment for the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) Discover Dance program for more than 700 elementary and junior high school students. The creative and modern dance program culminates with a student performance at McCaw Hall, choreographed by the students and PNB teaching artists. “It’s so cute,” Kessler says.

Kessler jumped into jazz at an early age. He was in the Hamilton Middle School Jazz Band and the Roosevelt High School Jazz Band. By the time he graduated from Cornish College of the Arts, he was playing in the Josh Rawlings Trio with fellow Cornish classmates Josh Rawlings (piano) and Nate Omdal (bass).

His other projects include the Jay Thomas Quartet with Jay Thomas (trumpet, flugelhorn, and tenor saxophone), John Hansen (piano) and Chuck Kistler (bass); the Seattle Percussion Trio with Jeremy Jones and Lalo Bello; and Sasson, a Jewish music ensemble founded by Keith Judelman (bass), Benjamin Gown (accordion) and Kessler. His newest endeavor is called Mouth of Gravity with Denney Goodhew (piano and percussion) and Mark Oi (guitar). The experimental trio explores sound and composition.

In addition to his gig at Barça, you can catch Kessler on rotating Monday nights at the Triple Door’s Musicquarium, where he co-hosts a weekly with drummer D’vonne Lewis. Back on the Hill, Kessler is hoping that jazz continues to pop up, stick around and work for the existing venues. One place he’s working on that: Still Liquor, with like-minded trumpeter Steve O’Brien.

– Sarah Thomas

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Steve O’Brien Trio at Still Lliquor. From Left to Right: Adam Kessler, Nate Parker, Steve O’Brien. Photo by Daniel Sheehan.

Steve O’Brien Trio
Mondays at Still Liquor
1524 Minor Ave

Kind, tall O’Brien leads, on trumpet, a trio session at Still Liquor on Monday nights. Since graduating from Cornish in 2011, the young trumpeter has worked a few of his own regular start-up weeklies with young colleagues on Hill – a brunch set at The Lookout, nights at the former Faire Gallery. Bassist Nate Parker and drummer Kessler are with him at new home Still Liquor.

Born in Portland, O’Brien grew up in Detroit, lived on Long Island and elsewhere, started college in Eugene, Ore., but transferred to Cornish when he learned about Kim Knapp and Jay Thomas on the Internet. “I wanted to learn from them,” he tells me on the phone.

His time at Cornish turned to a mentorship with multi-horn player Jay Thomas. “Jay’s a huge influence on me. ... At the simplest level, it’s kind of having the same positive attitude and quirkiness,” the young trumpeter says of his mentorship.

O’Brien regularly performs in Thomas’ big band at Tula’s, and occasionally in the Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble, led by Wayne Horvitz.

At Still Liquor, O’Brien’s trio works through standards with incredible taste, O’Brien showing ever-increasing facility and listener’s vocabulary. The group also welcomes sit-in guests. “I love having horn players sit-in,” O’Brien says.

– Schraepfer Harvey

Earshot Jazz is a Seattle based nonprofit music, arts and service organization formed in 1984 to support jazz and increase awareness in the community.  Earshot Jazz publishes a monthly newsletter, presents creative music and educational programs, assists jazz artists, increases listenership, complements existing services and programs, and networks with the national and international jazz community.
 
©2013 Earshot Jazz, Seattle, Washington