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Rhythm in the Rain
Delve into the History & Camaraderie of the Pacific Northwest Jazz Scene
"This is no place to gain fame and fortune playing jazz."
Those words are written in the very first section of Lynn Darroch's Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest, this month's indie groundbreaking book. Just a page later, Darroch quotes bassist Phil Baker—who once toured as part of the backing band for Diana Ross—to confirm that claim: "Nobody's getting rich here," Baker says.
Perhaps these statements shed some light on why, when most of us think of "jazz communities," our minds jump first to cities like New York, New Orleans, or Chicago rather than to Seattle or Portland. Seattle is a town known for its music scene, but the biggest musical event usually ascribed to Washington's biggest city is the rise and fall of grunge in the early 1990s. As the home of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden, Seattle was music's most important mecca during the early 1990s. Even after the fall of grunge, the city has continued on as an influential music hub, birthing major indie rock bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, Band of Horses, and Fleet Foxes. Still, jazz is rarely the first type of music someone would think of at the mention of Seattle, and the same holds true for most of the Pacific Northwest as well.
And yet, as Darroch quickly shows in the pages of Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest, cities like Seattle and Portland offer some of the most vibrant jazz communities in the country. The jazz scenes of these cities aren't necessarily populated by artists on the cusp of superstardom—though, as Darroch notes, an array of noted jazz talents did get their start in the Pacific Northwest, including Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Chris Botti, and Esperanza Spalding. But for the most part, the Pacific Northwest jazz scene is a community first and foremost, and Darroch's enlightening text—a balance between off-the-cuff storytelling and anthological history lesson—underlines that aspect above all else.
Indeed, within just the first few pages of Rhythm in the Rain, Darroch has already done much of the legwork for establishing Portland and Seattle as friendlier, more nurturing environments for jazz than Chicago or New York. He does it in a quote-heavy, journalistic style, borrowing the words of noted jazz musicians to tell the story rather than drawing the conclusions himself. Darrell Grant, a performer, composer, and Portland State University professor, praises the "all for one, one for all" feeling that defines the Pacific Northwest music scene; Chris Botti, a global trumpet star, credits Portland's tradition of mentorship and support for the quick progress he made as a young player; and Floyd Standifer, a member of the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame who passed way in 2007, marvels at how the Pacific Northwest subvert the cutthroat ideology that often comes to dominate other music towns: "Among musicians, there was a kind of respect around here that you didn't run into in New York."
Just like that, the stage is set for Darroch's excavation of the Portland and Seattle jazz scenes. The portrait he paints right at the beginning is one that will draw readers in, particularly those with musical backgrounds or aspirations. Darroch's Pacific Northwest sounds like a dream spot for career musicians: big enough to find gigs, small enough to make a name; friendly enough to find a niche, competitive enough to keep you motivated. Add the good-natured vibe of the place—where anyone who tries to cheat a fellow musician to get ahead is blacklisted or alienated from the scene—and the Pacific Northwest sounds like the kind of loyal, collaborative music community that just doesn't exist anymore.
Lynn Darroch, a local musician, radio broadcaster, and author who was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, proves to be the ideal person to tell this story. Examining the music and lifestyle of the cooperative jazz community described above—as well as the "political, social, and economic forces" that affect the area and its musicians—Darroch provides a detailed and consistently engrossing history of a jazz music scene that has, perhaps, been previously overlooked. As Darroch notes in the Preface, Rhythm in the Rain is not comprehensive. No single book could ever hope to cover the full spectrum of a musical community as vibrant as this one. Instead, Darroch takes the knowledge and quotes he's built up over 40 years of speaking with local jazz musicians, and turns it into an accomplished piece of literary journalism. The result is worth your attention.
Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest will be published by Ooligan Press on February 8th, 2016. You can purchase the book in paperback format on Amazon.com.
Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for IndependentPublisher.com, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.