“Earshot Jazz Festival executive director John Gilbreath had to postpone our hurriedly arranged interview because he was helping radio station KBCS do some fundraising. That conflict typifies the life of one of Seattle’s staunchest and busiest advocates for jazz. He has been involved with Earshot for 26 years, books shows year-round, DJs on KBCS (“The Caravan”), and KEXP (“Jazz Theater”), and writing articles for the monthly Earshot publication. You could say that what Decibel Festival founder Sean Horton was to the local electronic music ecosystem over the last dozen years, Gilbreath has been to Seattle’s jazz sphere, but for even longer and with more widespread clout.
When I interviewed Gilbreath two years ago, he waxed enthusiastic about the state of Earshot Jazz Festival (which runs from Oct 7-Nov 11) and of jazz, in general. The last two years have done nothing to diminish that spirit. While some prognosticators see mostly diminishing returns for the art form since its mid-20th-century commercial and artistic heyday, he remains “absolutely optimistic” about jazz’s health. “Jazz is an expanding universe,” he says. “All directions. All of the time. In Seattle, as around the world. And that’s the juice for this festival, presenting that momentum within the frame of this place, at this time. In that context, even the two years since we last spoke seems long ago.”
Perusing this year’s Earshot fest schedule, it seems as if the bill has moved toward a slightly younger and edgier slate of artists. The inclusion of Industrial Revelation, Bad Luck, ex-THEESatisfaction MC/producer SassyBlack, Hunter Gather, Steve Lehman Trio, Scott Amendola & Wil Blades, and several others points toward a vigorous, youthful-ish slant. Did Gilbreath and his team have a change in philosophy with regard to booking the fest this year? “We always go wide in presenting the forward-and-back tension in jazz,” he says. “But jazz tradition is progression. We certainly have traditionalists on the stage this year; like Wynton Marsalis, Freddy Cole [Nat King Cole’s brother], and our own great Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. But Earshot has always been known for hitting the leading edges and finding the fresh synergies in jazz.”“