By: Paul Elvig
The sign at the entrance of Washelli Saturday evening August 6th said it all: “JAZZ EVENT”. Arrows directed one to the center of Washelli to a place where public events are held.
“Dig That Jazz” was a ‘tickets required’ benefit held in one of the oldest areas of Washelli Cemetery, located up against a 90-year old grand mausoleum, a benefit for “The Snowman Foundation” which provides the gift of music to children.
This was Evergreen Washelli’s second annual jazz event, and seemed to be a real hit with the crowd of over 100 which brought their own blankets, chairs and ice chests for a 3-hour groove featuring the very popular Seattle jazz ensemble “Deems Tsutakawa & the New Seattle Groove.” The event was supported by Winestyles of Bothell and Seattle All Catering. Wine and Cheese plates along with a variety of beer and hot dogs in a controlled environment … a most unlikely mix of beverage and food, but so is jazz and a cemetery, or is it?
Evergreen Washelli General Manager Scott Sheehan welcomed everyone by pointing out how “in this very cemetery generations ago, people brought their families out on nice evenings like this with picnic baskets and blankets making a family outing out of it.” Some would bring instruments just to enjoy the music and memories. Years past some cemeteries offered special concerts while others sponsored community picnics. But tonight many were revisiting their past and enjoying the timeless nature of comfortable jazz.
“Dig That Jazz” played some of the finest jazz this writer has heard in a long time. KPLU FM radio had boosted the event as well as local jazz organizations over the previous week. Jazzoids have their ears open for this kind of personal invitation and jazzoids they were.
Wine and beer in a cemetery? Really! Really is right; it was done properly and with license. Roped off was a “You must be 21” area for those who wished a tasty glass of wine while listening to the sounds of traditional jazz. Scott enjoyed telling the crowd that as a cemetery manager he made it a point to listen to the Cemetery Board and Funeral Board … but tonight he was listening to the Liquor Control Board and their special events license requirements allowing such beverages to be consumed only within the roped area. Were the rules followed? From what this writer could see, yes they were.
Brenda Spicer, Evergreen Washelli’s office manager was everywhere. Little wonder, she was the person in charge for Evergreen Washelli; but as the evening wore on she seemed to be enjoying herself watching others do the same. I spoke with one older, totally toothless man (see photo), who wanted to be photographed and with thrilled to just be “sitting here with the rest of my family” enjoying a Western Washington August night. The “thank you … thank you” was from his heart.
With my camera I found most everyone present was pleased to have their picture taken, many asked to pose with family & friends. On a personal basis the most touching was a sweet lady sitting on the lawn with her knitting needle working with pink yarn. She told me how she enjoyed jazz and could best enjoy it while knitting. “Knit on …my mother relaxed best as you are doing … just knitting,” I shared.
The group featured several electric guitars, a tenor saxophonist, a drummer and a six-mallet xylophonist along with their leader on the electric keyboard. They had their production crew in tow with soundboards, speakers and whatever else it takes to make an outdoor event pleasantly heard.
Outside the program area, several hundred yards away, I observed several couples who were there just to decorate; standing holding hands, tapping their feet and enjoying the sounds that gently waffled across the grounds. Several teenagers with skateboards stood at some distance also enjoying the jazz, one tapping his skateboard to the beat. My thoughts wandered far ahead to the next generation of cemetery visitors. Would someday one of those teens tell his family, “I remember an August Seattle night when standing in a cemetery I heard some great jazz … jazz that spoke to me in an unforgettable way”.
“Dig That Jazz” … I think it’s here to stay.