Bellingham Jazz Project

By Steven Arbuckle

Jud-SherwoodBellingham drummer Jud Sherwood founded his Jazz Project in 1997 with the aim of “promoting jazz from a player’s perspective.” Marking its 17th concert season this year, the organization is continuing a number of projects while retooling others, presenting an impressive lineup of programs in a diverse group of venues. As well as giving local and touring acts a platform to practice and perform, this year’s schedule offers the music-loving public plenty of chances travel to some noteworthy locations to sample a variety of acts.

The monthly Art of Jazz series is known for bringing a number of smaller combos to the stage from January through May, and again from September through November. Most of the shows are held at the Mount Baker Theatre, one of Bellingham’s best-known downtown landmarks. Two of this year’s shows are scheduled for the Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth, a venue on the other side of downtown that may be less visible, but is just as vital to the city’s arts scene.

This year the Bellwether Jazz Festival will celebrate its fifth anniversary at the Tom Glenn Commons. An affair that will fill half a day with free, family friendly music, it is held in a beautiful outdoor space on the waterfront that any visitor will be happy to discover.

At Oakland Athletics Baseball Game

The Project has also enjoyed a long partnership with Boundary Bay Brewery, an institution already well known for its food, as well as its distinctly Pacific Northwest selection of beers. In fact, the names of venues and sponsors that can be found at the Jazz Project’s website are worth checking out on their own – they make up a widely varied list of attractions and services in and around Bellingham that could interest visitors and tourists alike. The website’s calendar is a good resource for planning a trip, and is a good place to learn about the Jazz Project’s missions outside of producing live music.

At Oakland Athletics Baseball Game

Operating as a non-profit organization, The Jazz Project builds partnerships with the public — including a membership that offers such perks as free admission to the Art of Jazz series — as well as with local businesses and community organizations, to offer an array of services beyond the live shows. For example, recognizing that the majority of musicians do not make their living from their craft, and that musical talent does not come with its own health insurance plan, the Project looks to its supporters to help it maintain a fund to assist players with medical expenses.

At Oakland Athletics Baseball Game

They also collect donated instruments to refurbish and pass along to students who otherwise can’t afford them, and oversee scholarship programs to help students to defray the cost of lessons, and membership in the Project’s own Youth Jazz Band. Now in its 15th year, this youth program follows the tried-and-true model of bringing professional musicians together with middle school and high school students to provide an education they might not find elsewhere. Anyone that has taken part in a program like this can probably attest to the positive effects it has had on their playing, as well as more the intangible (but just as valuable) benefits that come from working with mentors in a cooperative environment — and this program alone manages to play 35 free shows a year throughout Whatcom County.

The Jazz Project’s longevity proves that it is a valuable resource to the community, and by visiting jazzproject.org, you can find all the details you need to enjoy a concert during a visit to Bellingham, to become a part of the local jazz community, or to support of any of the programs that the organization sponsors.