Jackson Street Jazz Walk marks 10 years of deep community ties with expanded event by Alexa Peters

In the years around World War II, Jackson Street, a main thoroughfare in Seattle’s Central District, was home to a vibrant jazz scene that launched the careers of artists like Ernestine Anderson, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, and others.

In commemoration of this cultural legacy, community organizer Knox Gardner and a collection of Seattle Neighborhood Community Councils came together in 2013 to found a live music event: the Jackson Street Jazz Walk. Ten years later, Jackson Street Jazz Walk (JSJW) is flourishing—and deepening the community’s investment in this cultural legacy and each other.

This year’s JSJW is the biggest ever with 22 jazz, blues, Latin, and soul bands across 10 community stages. The walk kicks off with a red dress gala at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on September 8. The gala will feature the Nathan Breedlove Quartet and local jazz singer and JSJW’s Executive Producer, Eugenie Jones.

Jones, who took over JSJW in 2018, wanted this year to be big. She even put together JSJW’s first ever digital compilation CD, which will be available for purchase at the jazz walk.

“I was trying to do something just to acknowledge the fact that this has been going on for 10 years," said Jones. As executive producer, Jones has been working to evolve the walk from a simple entertainment event in the neighborhood into a live music event that’s focused on preserving history and building community.

"My goal was to make it a focus on the legacy of African American music legacy of central district, and at the same time, to be able to have a community give-back associated with it," she says.

Since taking over, Jones has put information on JSJW’s website and has provided JSJW emcees with scripts that explain the Central District’s rich music history. In doing so, JSJW has upped audience awareness and excitement about the area’s heritage, says Central District resident and long-time JSJW volunteer Maurice James.

James says that JSJW does a "really good job of talking about the history of not only just the festival, but you know how important the central district has been to the jazz community here in Seattle." He also says that the walk brings in a lot of people who attend every year. "And every year, like clockwork, they bring more people with them,” he added.

JSJW emphasizes charitable giving and community building under Jones’ leadership. Each year, admission to JSJW is by donation, with all funds going to benefit a specific nonprofit. This year will benefit the Carolyn Downs Family Medical Clinic in the Central District. Likewise, Jones is regularly bringing more local businesses into the fold, like Ethiopian restaurant Shewa-Ber Bar and Restaurant, one of three new community venues for 2023.

This year will also see the enrichment of long-time community partnerships. Pratt Fine Arts Center has been a JSJW venue since 2015 but is expanding their involvement this year and going forward.

Pratt will throw their Fall Open House in tandem with JSJW on September 9th by presenting two music stages, art demonstrations, food trucks, and a beer garden, as they’ve done previously. But Pratt is adding something new to the event this year by inviting artists, vendors, and community organizations, like Wa Na Wari and Artist Trust, to their campus during the event.

Jessica Borusky, Executive Director at Pratt, says that the center wanted to demonstrate that the walk has the potential to grow into an even larger community-based event. "There is a sense of community building and trust," she says. "It's important for Pratt to be involved as an organization."

In the future, Borusky says she’s also interested in more frequent collaborative programming with JSJW and in encouraging cross-pollination between fine artists at their school and jazz musicians. “I think there’s real room for that, because jazz and fine art are about both learning the technique and improvisation,” said Borusky.

By sharing Jackson Street’s music history, giving back, and strengthening community ties for ten years, Jackson Street Jazz Walk has not only uplifted Seattle’s local musicians, but created a space for neighborhood learning, celebration, and gathering. James, who is volunteering again this year, is already excited for his annual shot of dopamine.

“The Jazz Walk reinforces and reinvigorates my love for community,” he said. “People are up, they're dancing. They're hopping from one table to another table [saying] ‘I didn't know you before I came in, but I know you now, so great.’ It’s like a big party.”

JSJW closes at Fountainhead Gallery on September 10th with Seattle Sings!, a show featuring the Shawn Schlogel Trio and an array of local vocalists.

For more information on Jackson Street Jazz Walk 2023, visit their website.

Click here to read "Jackson Street Jazz Walk marks 10 years of deep community ties with expanded event" by Alexa Peters on KNKX's website.