Columns & Blogs

Behind the Scenes: Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center seeks more members

Bellingham jazz drummer and educator Julian MacDonough has been operating Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center at The Majestic on North Forest Street since October, and says its has already had a wonderful impact on the community.

“It has brought together a lot of different people from different walks of life who share a common love of jazz music,” he says.

Jazz aficionados don’t have to drive two hours to Seattle or to Vancouver, B.C., or pay high cover charges, parking and restaurant minimums to hear some of the best jazz musicians in the world.

Artists MacDonough has presented or who are scheduled to play this year include Eric Alexander, David Hazeltine, Steve Davis, Geoffrey Keezer, Seamus Blake, Harold Mabern, Jimmy Heath, Brian Blade, Peter Bernstein and many regional musicians, such as Miles Black and Blake Angelos.

The center also offers a high-school jazz-combo program that instructs kids on improvisation, group playing, and swing and jazz history. Students are put in bands of five or six and given arrangements to learn and taught how to improvise. They are then given the opportunity to perform and open for headline artists.

The center is open to people of all ages — one of the reasons MacDonough opened the space — so young people can enjoy music on a weekly basis (Wednesday evenings) in a positive, relaxed, music-focused atmosphere. Center students also can attend the shows for free, so they can see and learn from masters of the genre.

MacDonough started the center on a shoestring to fill what he saw as a void in jazz performances and jazz knowledge in Bellingham, and because he saw students who were interested in jazz but lacked access to teachers or a place to network and start bands.

The center is a membership-based venture, and while that brings in some money every month, the program hasn’t achieved its membership goal yet.

“This has left us with very little wiggle room financially to acquire the little extras that we need that really start to add up,” MacDonough says.

So the center hopes to raise $1,4000 so the program can keep the quality teachers already on board, and to help pay off the Steinway piano. The center also needs music stands, stand lights, and a larger budget for sheet music.

MacDonough would also like to send student groups to various competitions around the West Coast starting in the fall, so part of this money would help with those fees.

Membership perks include CDs by some of the guest performers, private instruction from center teachers, and live performances by the faculty trio at a location of your choice.

If MacDonough doesn’t make the full membership goal, the funds will go first to keeping teachers, then to the piano, and then to the music stands and other needs.

He has launched an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. Details are at (scroll down for the fundraising video), or come to a show.

SpeakEasy needs young poets

Luther Allen, organizer of the SpeakEasy poetry events, is making plans for “SpeakEasy 16, Fresh Minds, New Words,” which will focus on poetry for kids, at 2 p.m. April 12 at Mount Baker Theatre’s Encore Room. Allen says he hasn’t filled the quota for young poets reading their own work, so “some nervousness is starting to creep in.”

He’s looking for about 15 young poets between 5 and 16 who would be willing to read a short poem or two of their own creation.

Please submit poems, with the name and age of the poet (along with the name of an adult who would accompany the reader to the event) to, or to SpeakEasy 16, P.O. Box 1042, Bellingham, WA 98227 by Tuesday, March 31. All submitted poems will be displayed at the reading, and 15 poets will be chosen from the submitted poems.

Fairhaven College professor David T. Mason dies

One of the first performances I attended when I moved to Bellingham was one of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas at Western Washington University’s Fairhaven College. I don’t remember which one I saw first, but for many years,“Pirates of Penzance,” “HMS Pinafore” and “The Mikado” were directed by Fairhaven College’s David Mason, and I attended nearly all of them.

The singing was magical and the productions captured the timely and political humor of the late 19th-century composing duo.

Mason died March 17 after an extended illness. Here’s a portion of the Facebook tributes posted about him.

From Frank James: “David was a person loved by many. A limnologist, wildlife biologist, expert on the white-footed deer mouse and the fairy shrimp; and producer-of-Gilbert and Sullivan-extraordinaire, he was also always singing, painting, doing research in the sciences — but most of all teaching.

“Many generations of students learned some of life’s most interesting and difficult to master lessons from him. David lived life fully with a smile, a bit of mischief, a song, a brilliant mind that was always running full speed ahead and challenging every assumption we have in a spirit of open, thought-provoking wonder at just how wonderful the world really was.”

From Shelley Muzzy (a frequent performer in Mason’s productions and his next-door neighbor): “For all the old Fairhaven Players, and most of all for David Mason. The Mason Diction Line will never be the same. Thank you for some of my happiest hours, for your bright presence, for hauling your telescope into our yard to see Saturn’s rings, for getting us up in the night to see the bats.”

From Jack Herring, dean of Fairhaven College: “Fairhaven was graced with David’s service as a faculty member for three decades. Although he has been retired from Fairhaven since 1998, his presence is still felt here in many ways, and his passing should reverberate with every member of this community who has seen his paintings on the walls, fought for the protection of the places they love or had a threshold learning experience catalyzed by international travel.

“As per David’s wishes, no formal services will be held. Please join me in finding your own unique way of honoring him, celebrating his accomplishments and marking his passage. I also want to take this moment to offer my deepest thanks and condolences to David’s friends, and to acknowledge the extraordinary care that they gave David during his last years. David inspired many and was deeply loved by a circle of amazing people, and the support he received from his friends in his time of need was the greatest possible testament to this.”

For a full biography, go to Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, David Mason.