Olympia Jazz Central

Culture Music

The lights are dimmed, the band is warming up, the sound of the bass flute rings through the streets. It’s Monday night, and jazz is alive and well in Olympia!

The Royal Lounge is hot and full. The crowd is abuzz as iconic local pianist Joe Baque lights up the stage with Neap Tide, a new ensemble focused on the work of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. The band, and its concept, are the brainchild of Baque and wind player John Croarkin.

Collaborations like this are commonplace on Jazz Mondays at the Royal. Croarkin has constructed multiple groups for the series and refers to the scene as a “musicians’ workshop”. A quick look at the crowd reveals an audience composed largely of local musicians. It is not uncommon to see bands pull an old friend off a barstool to join in on a tune or two.

Local educator and musicia, Betsy Perkins has booked live jazz at the Royal every Monday night for over a year. With a different group featured each week, it has quickly become the place to enjoy live jazz in town. Perkins says the variety is something that appeals to her and to the audience, especially with jazz being such a diverse genre.

“It’s nice to have a different group each time — it brings in more people. There’s different faces in the crowd each week,” Perkins said. “The word gets spread.”

The Royal has hosted regional artists such as vocalist Dennis Hastings, Hot Club Sandwich, The Greta Jane Quartet, Bevy, and The Bentley Four, among others. Most recently, three-time Latin Grammy nominee Jovino Santos Neto packed the house with over 100 local jazz lovers. The budding scene at the Royal is just one example of the efforts of the local community to reinvigorate the scene.

Danielle Westbrook manages Olympia Jazz Central (OJC), a volunteer-run organization which has promoted the local jazz scene since 2009. The group has become an important asset for getting the word out about local music happenings. People have been very receptive — OJC’s membership has increased steadily over the past year and now boasts almost 400 faithful aficionados.

“The local jazz scene contributes to Olympia’s uniqueness. It’s had a profound impact on my life. I want it to touch my daughter’s life and the life of other kids in the same way,” Westbrook said. “For this to happen, we have to work together to keep jazz music alive in Olympia.”

The bulging OJC calendar of events shows Westbrook’s dream is quickly becoming a reality. In addition to the Monday night series, Swing Wine Bar hosts guitarist Vince Brown every Wednesday. Watersteet Cafe hosts a monthly jazz series and Grove Street Brew House, Traditions Fair Trade and South Bay BBQ’s “Pig Bar” all host weekly or monthly jam sessions. KAOS radio has always featured the genre in multiple slots, including “Free Jazz with Fred”. The Washington Center continues its “Black Box Jazz Series,” organized by one of Olympia’s favorite musicians, Michael Olsen, featuring composers such as the late and great saxophonist Bert Wilson; the series continues in 2014.

Back at the Royal, more local jazzers arrive to enjoy the show. Co-organizer Lorree Gardener greets them at the door.  There is a suggested donation, but no one is turned away. Snacks and cold beer await; business cards from various music instructors lay on the table. There is a sense — much like within the genre itself — of collaboration and networking here in the lounge.  Musicians and fans alike, meet here to listen, learn and connect.

To become a member of Olympia Jazz Central, visit www.olympiajazzcentral.com. Join us to create a community where the music thrives, the musicians jam, and the people gather to support live jazz in Olympia. ◙

Live jazz 

coming your way:


Thursday, December 19, 8pm

Jam Session @ The Pig Bar

619 Legion Way SE, Olympia


Saturday, December 21, 9 pm

Dennis Hastings and The Joe Baque Trio @ The Waterstreet Café

610 Water St SW, Olympia


Monday, December 23, 8 pm

Rich Wetzel’s Groovin Higher Orchestra @ The Royal Lounge

311 Capitol Way N, Olympia


Monday, December 30, 8 pm

Mucho Mas @ The Royal Lounge

311 Capitol Way N, Olympia


Sunday, January 5, 2 pm

Vitamin J Jazz Jam @ Traditions

300 5th Ave SW, Olympia

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