Charleston quintet Ranky Tanky performs at the Earshot Jazz Festival. Photo: Daniel Sheehan

Get Jazzed

With more than 60 events in 30 days across 20 different venues around the city, the 30th annual Earshot Jazz Festival has something for everyone.

Emily Boynton


Known for taking risks and innovation, the Earshot Jazz Festival spans the genres of jazz, featuring performers from local high school bands and resident artists to international headliners, works by single composers and large ensemble pieces, and even lectures and exhibits at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Arts. With star-studded performances all month long (Oct 7–Nov 4), here’s what you need to know about this year’s festival.

Charleston quintet Ranky Tanky performs at the Earshot Jazz Festival. Photo: Daniel Sheehan

Era of Jazz

The first notes of Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Festival debuted in summer 1989 with fewer than 10 shows. Thirty years later, Earshot has grown into the city’s premier annual jazz festival, with events held each fall in October and November. The festival’s continued evolution, which this year includes a special four-day residency with 2019 NEA Jazz Masters Fellow Maria Schneider, reflects the ever-changing nature of jazz itself. “It’s a music with a mandate for reinventing itself and discovering new means of expression,” says Earshot’s Executive Director John Gilbreath. Still, along with its slate of new programming and global roster of stars, Earshot remains solidly rooted in the community—more than 60 percent of the performers are locally based artists.

Cultural Roots

This year Earshot teams up with Langston, a new Seattle nonprofit focused on cultivating arts and culture within the black community, to present 10 concerts at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center (104 17th Ave S), celebrating black musicians and the neighborhood where Seattle’s jazz culture originated along Jackson Street and Yesler Way. “Jazz belongs to black America,” Gilbreath notes. “As an art form it has grown, but its cultural expression is very much rooted in the American South and the collision of cultures that happened there. We certainly honor that expansion and that history in the music.” You can catch the inaugural Langston series from Oct 21 to Nov 1.

Gilbreath Recommends: Emerging artist and black avant-garde improviser James Brandon Lewis, with featured bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren “Trae” Crudup III (Oct 24).

Leading Ladies

Earshot consistently strives to highlight women-led ensembles, and with nearly 50 percent female artists, this year’s lineup does not disappoint. Get swept away by the melodic sounds of MacArthur Fellow and world-renowned violinist Regina Carter, or discover emerging talent from an array of musicians from saxophonist Amy Denio to drummer Allison Miller.

Gilbreath Recommends: 2019 NEA Jazz Masters Fellow Maria Schneider, who has a four-day residency at the festival and concerts on Nov 4 & 5. Schnieder pushes the boundries of big-band work with her arrangements and compositions, creating a unique style Gilbreath describes as “a jazz side of Aaron Copland.”

Former Seattleite Bill Frisell of jazz trio Circuit Rider performs at Earshot Jazz Festival. Photo: Paul Moore

Local Legends

Seattle’s vibrant jazz communities center on Cafe Racer (5828 Roosevelt Way NE) and the Royal Room (5000 Rainier Ave S). Hear the sweet harmonies of local favorite Jovino Santos Neto—a composer, professor at Cornish, and the festival’s featured resident artist—who will be performing in several programs throughout the festival. For more sounds of Seattle, catch the tantalizing beats of drummer D’Vonne Lewis, the soaring notes of vocalist Johnaye Kendrick, and the jazz and Cuban fusion of Clave Gringa.

Gilbreath Recommends: Circuit Rider and opener “These Hills of Glory,” performed by a string quartet featuring clarinetist Beth Fleenor (Oct 28). Written by Seattle composer Wayne Horvitz, the sweeping strings of “These Hills of Glory” will enchant the crowd, followed by a full set by the masterful Circuit Rider’s Ron Miles, Brian Blade, and former Seattleite Bill Frisell.


Get a festival gold card ($450 for members or $500 for the general public) for preferred seating and entrance to all festival events, or buy tickets separately to select and attend specific concerts.


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