Arts and Entertainment

Friday Harbor's Jazz at the Labs

 The San Juan Jazz Quintet
The San Juan Jazz Quintet's Rich Barker
— image credit: Cali Bagby

By Cali Bagby

Dennis Willows has been playing drums for the San Juan Jazz Quintet for 20 years and is a volunteer skipper at the Friday Harbor Laboratories. He also happens to be the former director of the labs and the one who initially raised the issue of more education-related fund-raising, which prompted Jazz at the Labs.

“Bob Schwartzberg, the lab’s director of development at the time, was a jazz fan and we co-conspired,” Willows said.

You can listen to Willows and other players on June 4 at the 11th annual Jazz at the Labs, an evening of food and jazz music at Friday Harbor Laboratories. There will also be a mini live and silent auctions and Dick Stein, KPLU’s Midday Jazz Host, will be the night’s master of ceremonies.

Proceeds from Jazz at the Labs benefit the Friday Harbor Laboratories K-12 Science Outreach Program for San Juan Island schools. The program takes kids into the field, lab, classroom and Research Vessel Centennial to pique their interest in science.

“We really got to learn from our own mistakes and the mistakes of our classmates,” wrote high school student Ellen Goudie last year in a letter to the labs. “It’s exciting to be part of an experiment where our own research can actually help marine biologists in the field.”

Willows was also drawn to science as a young person.

“The best way to get youth involved is to give them hands on experience,” said Willows, who with the San Juan Jazz Quintet featuring vocals by Jill Urbach, will kick off the night. San Juan Jazz Quintet has entertained in the Pacific Northwest since 1990, playing standards, swing, bebop, originals and Latin jazz.

Next on stage will be Chris Amemiya and Jazz Coalescence, a jazz band from Seattle, Wash. Anemiya, who has played at this event for the last eight years, is like Willows, another scientist drawn to jazz music.

“I find science and music quite similar. I guess there is an analytical component to music that scientists might naturally gravitate towards,” said Amemiya, a trombone player and director of the Genome Resource Center in Seattle.

Willows and Amemiya both find it hard to describe the connection between both studies.

“Musicians and scientists are very curious and observant people, it’s  probably not a coincidence,” said Willows. “Its sort of magic how so many musicians and scientists share common interests. I don’t know where it comes from, but I like it.”

You don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy Jazz at the Labs, although Willows said, “Most people that come have already been bit by the bug, but for people that want to take a chance and do an experiment,

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