A pro. Charles Mudede
On a cold, rainy night in late fall, I walked down an alley toward the door of one of Seattle’s most prestigious cultural institutions, Dimitriou’s jazz alley. It was 2010. My wife and I had dressed up for a show featuring the greatest singer of the era, Cassandra Wilson. I discovered his voice in 1993 while listening to a jazz program on KCMU (now KEXP). The radio played his version of “Come on in my Kitchen” by Robert Johnson. The old blues song is already haunting, and Wilson re-haunted it with a soul that tapped into the deepest parts of the black American experience. That night at Jazz Alley, Wilson sang his hits (which included his impossibly tender version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”) in a setting that included the intimacy the club is famous for and a precocious 23-year-old pianist. appointed Jon Batistewho is now the conductor of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
But this moment in time – Wilson’s showmanship and Batiste’s supernaturally supple pianism – is one of thousands that captures precisely the type of professional presentation (the sound system, the dark ambiance, the seriousness of the audience) that has made Jazz Alley a world-class venue. Indeed, the club was world class long before Seattle was world class.
Jazz Alley, of course, has been closed for much of the current pandemic. And while it’s had a few shows in 2021, it’s only recently started posting schedules that resemble pre-COVID-19 ones. Top quality musicians are on tour again.
April, for example, features the Cuban-born Latin jazz pianist, Omar Sosawho will perform with the Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita; the sounds of black Cuba woven with the classical music of black West Africa. A pianist whose approach to the piano I can only describe as one of exceptional care collaborating with a koraist whose sound is made not for the spirits but for the nobles of Africa. (April 12 and April 13.)
Jazz Alley also has jazz royalty on its April schedule, Ravi Coltranethe son of John and Alice Coltrane. April 26 and 27, the saxophonist will explore the cosmic period of his father (1965 to his death in 1967). Now it’s true that I’m not a fan of the cosmic music that John made with his wife. My feeling is that the works that included his classical quartet (McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones) were already pushing jazz to the limits of the unknown. There was no need to break with this progress, this direction, this sound revolution. Works like “India” were already far away.
That said, many music critics I admire, like Dave Segal, have nothing but positive things to say about Coltrane’s cosmic collaborations with Alice. Segal too, like the late Greg Tate (one of my heroes), swears on the bible that is Miles Davis’ jazz fusion era. I just can’t go there or into free jazz. So your Marxist turns out to be a jazz conservative, but not one who, like British poet Philip Larkin, sees the classical period of jazz ending in the 1930s.
That said, there’s one other show I want to highlight in Jazz Alley’s April schedule (April 28 – May 1). It comprises Kathy Luge from the iconic group Sister Luge. Admittedly, she is not a jazz singer, but she is certainly one of the queens of disco. At 19, she recorded “We Are Family” with her sisters. She also contributed to what I consider to be the last great work of the disco movement, the dark and beautiful “Pretty Baby”.
For more information on upcoming shows at Jazz Alley, visit Everout.