On a cold and rainy late-fall night, I walked down an alley toward the door for one of Seattle's most prestigious cultural institutions, Dimitriou's Jazz Alley. The year was 2010. My wife and I had dressed up for a show that featured the greatest singer of that time, Cassandra Wilson. I discovered her voice back in 1993 while listening to a jazz program on KCMU (now KEXP). The radio played her version of Robert Johnson's "Come on in my Kitchen." The old blues song is already haunting, and Wilson re-haunted it with a soul that tapped the deepest parts of the black American experience. That night at Jazz Alley, Wilson sang her hits (which included her 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 named Jon Batiste, who is now the bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
But that moment in time—the Wilson show and Batiste's preternaturally supple pianism—is one of thousands that precisely capture the kind of professional presentation (the sound system, the dusky mood, 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, was closed for much of the current pandemic. And though it had some shows in 2021, it only recently began posting calendars that look something like the pre-COVID-19 ones. The high-quality musicians are on tour again.
April, for example, features the Cuban-born Latin Jazz pianist, Omar Sosa, who 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 the nobles of Africa. (April 12 and April 13.)
Jazz Alley also has a member of jazz royalty on its April calendar, Ravi Coltrane, the son of John and Alice Coltrane. On April 26 and 27, the saxophonist will explore the cosmic period of his father (1965 to his death in 1967). Now it is true I'm not a fan of the cosmic music John made with his wife. My feeling is that the works that included his classic 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 revolution in sound. Works like "India" were already far out.
That said, many music critics I admire, such as Dave Segal, have nothing but positive things to say about Coltrane's cosmic collaborations with Alice. Segal also, like the late Greg Tate (a hero of mine), swears on the bible that is Miles Davis's jazz fusion period. I just can't go there or into free jazz. So, your Marxist turns out to be a jazz conservative, but not one who, as with the British poet Philip Larkin, sees jazz's classical period as ending in the 1930s.
That said, there is one more show I want to point out in Jazz Alley's April calendar (April 28 - May 1). It features Kathy Sledge of the iconic group Sister Sledge. True, she is not a jazz singer, but she is certainly one of the queens of disco. At the age of 19, she recorded "We Are Family" with her sisters. She also contributed to what I consider is the last great work of the disco movement, the dusky and gorgeous "Pretty Baby."
For more information about coming shows at Jazz Alley, visit Everout.