The New Cool: Jazz in Rock Clubs

Jul 28, 2017

In my formative years, catching live music around Seattle was a lot more beer-and-cigarettes than coffee beans-and-iPhones. It wasn’t just the heavy rock tagged as “grunge”, either – clubs in Seattle also offered some of the best jazz in town.

Last week the Nectar Lounge in Fremont presented a double bill of Northwest jazz icons who came up playing in venues like the Crocodile Café, the Central Tavern, The Backstage and even the Comet Tavern. I still feel a little strange sitting down for a live show that’s not in a theater. That energy of an audience on its feet, grooving in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to the music… well, it can’t be beat.

Sadhappy weren’t a jazz band at all, but in the late 80s the heavy instrumentals of the bass and drums duo became more interesting to jazz fans with the addition of Skerik’s saxophonics. Playing his tenor through guitar effects pedals turned him into a rock god, and gave him all the power (and volume) of his bandmates. Their live shows were epic, and their progressive rock/jazz chops pushed many rock musicians to strive to be better players.

Skerik with McTuff's Joe Doria on organ.
Credit Abe Beeson

Skerik went on to form his own groups, including the genre busting Critters Buggin’, who’s first album was produced and released by Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam.

Headlining the show at Nectar last week was the legendary trio Living Daylights: Jessica Lurie on saxophones and flute, Arne Livingston and Dale Fanning on bass and drums. For about a decade beginning in the early 90s, Living Daylights trod those same beer soaked rock club stages. Fanning remarked to me that he’s happy that these days you didn’t get home “smelling like cigarettes anymore!”

Through four albums, they thrilled Seattle audiences with their adventurous, groovy, percussive combination of rock energy, globally-influenced melodies, and high-wire improvisation. Tours with John Scofield, Maceo Parker, Wayne Shorter and others helped to spread their music to appreciative audiences, but Seattle has the dirt they were grown in. For this reunion, the trio came together from their new homes in New York City, Berkeley and Portland.

The history books will always pin the “grunge” label on those crazy days of my youth, but my memory will always include a bright spot for the jazz players in those smelly rock clubs who taught me that jazz can and will draw inspiration from all kinds of music – that’s the “freedom” that we always talk about.

Whether it was the rock scene and the clubs that influenced the players at the time, or if incredible musicians like these (as well as Rockin’ Teenage Combo, Bebop and Destruction, and the arrivals of Wayne Horvitz and Bill Frisell) changed the sound of Seattle rock doesn’t matter much. But it’s an important reminder that the strength of the music in the Northwest lies in its diversity.

Arne Livingston and Jessica Lurie put the hammer down at Nectar Lounge.
Credit Abe Beeson

Skerik continues to rock, and swing, and groove around the world, but we’re lucky he still makes his home in Seattle, so check out his live music calendar. Jessica Lurie may be on the other side of the country, but makes frequent visits back home and told me that a new album is coming soon. (And a little bird told me that a live collection from Living Daylights may be in the works as well!)

On this week’s New Cool, we’ll check out “Flying Man” from Jessica Lurie’s album Shop of Wild Dreams, and jam “Sprung Monkey” with Skerik in the group Garage A Trois featuring guitarist Charlie Hunter, drummer Stanton Moore and vibes player Mike Dillon. (from out-of-print Emphasizer album from 2003)

The New Cool airs Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

Reserve your free tickets to the New Cool concert series! First up, Duende Libre at the Landing at Tyee on Lake Union August 13th!