U.W. Friday Harbor Labs welcome jazz musicians to raise money for local students

Last year’s event packed the house. Saxophonist Mike West

The best are back to raise money for science education.

Jazz at the Labs will sell out again, you can bet on it. Last year, people packed the U.W. Friday Harbor Labs dining hall to listen to a bunch of guys from the Seattle music scene who have been playing together in various incarnations for years.

They sometimes call themselves “Jazz Coalescence,” or just “Coalescence.” They play one gig all year — here — to raise money so island students, both public and private, can go outside and work with graduate students and learn first-hand about our local marine ecosystem.

Last year’s leader was full-time UW scientist and excellent trombone player Chris Amemiya. This year’s leader is trumpet and flugelhorn player, Jay Thomas, who is filling in while Amemiya is doing research back east.

Thomas is a native of Seattle. While still in high school, he was awarded a Down Beat jazz scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is the Pacific Northwest’s most prominent jazz musician and has performed with a veritable Who’s Who of jazz musicians.

A long-time favorite of local music aficionados, the event differs greatly from what is usually found at other venues on the island.

On this night, Chef Laurie Spaulding pulls out all the stops in the Lab’s dining hall, preparing a special meal. Locals put on their best island chic attire and head to the dining hall for an evening of fine food, wine and music.

Bob Schwartzberg raises money for the Labs and coordinates the event every year. He loves jazz and gets excited talking about it, and forgets himself to point out the obvious.

“People enjoy it,” Schwartzberg said. “I mean, these are really great musicians. These guys are top professionals.”

Uh, yeah, Bob. Like we don’t know that. The event has been packed with first-call musicians for years.

Schwartzberg has been raising sponsorships for the event at $500 a pop. He has no trouble raising money, even from the Wilson Motors car dealership in Bellingham. Wells Fargo Bank is the event’s lead sponsor, giving $5,000 to the program.

“These community businesses care about the community and the island,” Schwartzberg said. “They always step forward. They’ve been sponsoring it for the last several years.”

Thomas is excited to fill in and lead up this year’s ensemble.

“The Seattle music scene is large enough to be diverse but small enough to know everybody,” Thomas said. “This is so fun for us to come up and play at the Labs. With an enthusiastic audience who are having a nice time and are listening in a fairly informal setting. And we love that.”

While Thomas normally plays trumpet and flugelhorn, this year he’s letting Vern Sielert pull that wagon. “I’ll be playing sax,” he said. “I’m going to be playing tenor, and soprano (sax) and flute.”

Sielert was director of jazz studies at Baylor University and has served on the faculties of University of Illinois, Illinois State University, Millikin University and Baylor University. He has performed with artists such as Rosemary Clooney, Freddie Hubbard, The Spinners, and Ralph Carmichael.

Bassist Chris Symer returns. He has performed with many of the area’s top jazz groups while continuing to perform and tour with several L.A. and Bay Area-based artists.

Also returning is Seattle piano player Bill Anschell, who has performed or recorded with a host of top jazz musicians, including Lionel Hampton, Nnenna Freelon, Tierney Sutton, Russell Malone, Richard Davis, Russell Gunn, Ron Carter and other greats.

Anschell recorded three CDs of his own compositions and in February 2006 was voted Earshot’s “Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year.” In January 2007, his trio was voted Earshot’s “Northwest Acoustic Jazz Ensemble of the Year.”

New featured players this year are Mark Taylor, a Seattle-based saxophonist and heavy hitter in the Northwest music scene. Taylor can be heard regularly around the Seattle area with the Jim Knapp Orchestra, Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, Mark Taylor Quartet and various other groups led by Marc Seales, Jay Thomas, Steve Korn and others.

Percussionist and drummer Greg Williamson has toured as a member of the swinging big bands of Woody Herman, Glenn Miller and Harry James. He has appeared on more than 30 CDs, including the recent “JazzInIt” by singer Dee Daniels, which has been charting No. 1 across Canada.

Williamson traveled several years with Steve Allen and Tonight Show Live with legendary pianist Paul Smith. He has performed with Seattle’s own and widely renown vocalist Ernestine Anderson since 1991, presently acting as her musical director.

This is a once-a-year special night. Jazz lovers come together, break bread, chat and laugh and raise a bunch of money so local students can learn about science.

For tickets, contact Kathy Cowell at cowelk@u.washington.edu or 378-2165.