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Generation Next: Four Voices From Seattle

Paul Rauch By

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I've found you've got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light. —John Coltrane
Each generation, an insidious notion arises, and is passed about the musical world that jazz music, the only uniquely American art form is somehow experiencing a slow, but certain death. Inevitably, this notion is set aside, and somehow projected forward in time, as a new generation of artists rise to the occasion, not only facilitating the survival of, but enabling the forward journey of the genre. In Seattle, the vibrant scene has moved forward from Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson, across generations to current innovators such as trumpeter/composer Thomas Marriott, trailblazing bassist Jeff Johnson, and iconic pianist Marc Seales, to name but a few.

While this cycle of musical innovation, reinvents itself generationally, the path that leads musicians to this music, and beyond into a life dedicated to it as a profession changes decade by decade. What a young jazz musician is challenged with today differs greatly from the artistic, social, and economic challenges two and three generations in the past. This has been a topic of much discussion in the jazz press in recent years, as many veteran players recall how things were, "back in the day," whether the "day" is ten, twenty, even thirty or forty years ago. There is a belief that younger generation players who have developed their craft largely within the confines of academia, lack the experience and character of expression that can only be earned on the bandstand. This interview is an opportunity for four young jazz musicians from Seattle to have a voice in the matter. Three are juniors at Garfield High School, in Seattle's Central District, the other a senior at Ingraham High School in North Seattle.

Each has a unique story that adds color to their respective views and experiences to this juncture on their journey in life and music. Vocalist Serena Dominguez is the daughter of two great musicians from Spain. Her father is the great flamenco-jazz pianist, Chano Dominguez. Her mother Marina Albero is a noted pianist, as well as a pioneering innovator of the psalterium, or hammered dulcimer. Bassist Ben Feldman, and guitarist Owen Boxwell, are performing professionally as sidemen, and as leaders of their own ensemble, The Boxwell/Feldman Group. Trumpeter Bell Thompson studies with innovative trumpeter/composer Samantha Boshnack, and recently did a live studio session on Seattle's jazz and NPR station, KNKX-FM 88.5.

One afternoon at Tula's Jazz club, we discussed topics of concern for the next generation of musicians moving forward, including mentorship, gender bias, education, and each artist's personal path forging an original musical identity. The result was more than compelling and informative. It was bright, intelligent, humorous, and genuine, carrying with it the anticipation and hope each new generational wave of young musicians bring. I hope you enjoy.

All About Jazz: To be able to actually play this music someday, one needs to connect with its tradition, history, and development. To immerse one's self in the language so that you can understand it and eventually assimilate it. Immersion, imitation, and assimilation: This is, and has been, the process, not only with Jazz, but with all music. Talk about your path to this point, to your understanding this music.

Serena Dominguez: I've been into music since always, because my parents are musicians. I started getting interested in jazz, and I would want to play with my friends, and my mom would say, " Hey, let's make a band and play jazz." She would give me a list of people I should listen to, and I just started listening to a ton of jazz. My parents were playing it, it was something that came natural for me, almost as if the assimilation came before anything else, because it was all around me, I understood it already, but I didn't actively try to understand it. So I started listening to Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Coltrane, all the big names, and I thought it was super cool. I felt like I understood what they were doing, because I had been around it for so long, so it was so cool to have the musical background to finally understand it, after years of just listening to it.

Ben Feldman: I grew up much different, my parents aren't musicians. In seventh grade, I was playing rock guitar at the time, and Owen showed me a Joe Pass album his teacher had shown him. When I heard that I was really just entranced by it and started listening to it all the time, his solo album, Virtuoso (Pablo, 1973), one of the best solo jazz guitar albums, ever. So I started getting into jazz guitar, and it became an immediate addiction. I just sort of dropped everything in school, and I was just listening to music during all my classes, reading theory books under my desk. I started practicing seven, eight hours a night, until 1:30 in the morning every day.

Owen Boxwell: He would be such a mess in school, sleeping constantly, the teachers would be furious at him!

Dominguez: He's going mad, there's jazz in the world!

Feldman:I was just the worst student ever, and my teachers were taking away my jazz books, because I wouldn't stop reading them. I also immersed myself in the history, and I became interested in studying as many history books on jazz that I could, because I wanted to understand from that perspective as well. So that's pretty much how I got into this music, and trying to understand it.

Boxwell: Ben and I really fed off each other in middle school. We would constantly be checking out stuff. It would be like, "Hey have you heard this album?" If the other person didn't, we would vibe the shit out of each other. We were developing and checking out shit together. 100% of our conversations would be about records, walking down the halls putting on music, we were annoying! That's how it started, we were finding jazz together and that's how we found the music that we're listening to today.

Feldman: And we took lessons from the same guitar teacher.

Dominguez: You guys are jazz bros, so cute!

Feldman: From a former cult leader, it was pretty insane.

Boxwell: He had a show on Seattle Public Access, Bruce Howard. It was called the Forum.

Feldman: He was scary, and indoctrinated us to his weird views on jazz.

Boxwell: One of his things was you couldn't listen to music with horn players.

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