By Marcy Stamper
Several opportunities to hear jazz — and to burnish your improv skills and try them out at an open mic — are on tap over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The performances include George Schneider’s Methow JazzStars — an ensemble of local talents on flute, piano, sax, bass, percussion and vocals — on Friday (May 25). On Sunday (May 27), The Westerlies, a “genre-bending” brass quartet from New York City, bring their original mix of jazz — which includes strains of folk, rock and classical music — to the Methow.
The Methow JazzStars showcases some of the valley’s most talented jazz musicians — Schneider on flute, Lynette Westendorf on piano, Wayne Mendro on flute and tenor saxophone, Howie Johnson on stand-up and electric bass, Kirk Schumacher on drum set, Jason Russell on percussion, and Sarah Stephens on vocals.
The group grew out of Schneider’s vision for an ensemble to explore music he loves, much of it from the exceptional repertoire for jazz flute by greats including Hubert Laws. As the musicians worked together, that vision expanded to include music that highlights individual musicians and a wide range of styles.
The JazzStars program will span music from New Orleans second-line rhythm to Afro-Cuban to bebop. Featured composers include Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Bobby McFerrin and Billie Holiday.
“We’ve been working really hard on arrangements, but the concert will be very much in the spirit of jazz improv. We don’t know where the music is going to go,” said Schneider.
“It’s an opportunity for jazz listeners to hear some tunes they’ve never heard performed — things they’ve only heard in recordings,” he said.
The Westerlies got their start seven years ago in Seattle when four childhood friends combined their talents — two on trumpet and two on trombone — and became what they call an “accidental brass quartet.” They’ve since developed a diverse repertoire and interpretation, which will be on full display Sunday afternoon.
Musicians can hone their own improv skills at an afternoon workshop on Saturday (May 26) with the Westerlies, and then try their chops and new riffs at a free jam session that evening.
The improv workshop is a rare opportunity to learn from the Westerlies, who conduct these workshops all over the world. The workshop is for any instrumentalist or singer, with or without improv experience. People can even come to listen and expand their understanding of jazz as an audience member.
For the Saturday-night jam session, the Westendorf Trio — Westendorf, Johnson and Schumacher — will be on hand as the rhythm section, and the Westerlies will join in. All ages, abilities and instruments are welcome.
The Methow JazzStars concert is Friday (May 25) at 7 p.m. at the Merc Playhouse in Twisp. Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for students. Proceeds benefit Cascadia Music.
The improv workshop is Saturday (May 26) from 3 to 5:30 p.m. in Room 3 at the Methow Valley Community Center in Twisp. Tuition is $20 and scholarships are available. No advance registration is necessary.
The jam session is free and starts at 7 p.m. Saturday night (May 26) at the Methow Valley Ciderhouse in Winthrop.
The Westerlies concert is Sunday (May 27) at 3 p.m. at The Merc Playhouse. Admission is $15 for adults and $5 for students. Tickets for the JazzStars and the Westerlies are available at brownpapertickets.com and at the door.