Chilly Sunday nights promise to heat up with sizzling jazz at the OutCast Theatre at the Island County Fairgrounds in Langley through December.
OutCast Productions has a permanent home in the historic Pole Building at the Fairgrounds. The intimate, 60-seat theatre, co-founded by K. Sandy O’Brien and Ned Farley, has produced several cutting-edge plays since 2010.
Now the cozy venue plays host to Sunday night jazz concerts featuring local musicians, both well-known names and up and comers.
O’Brien cooked up the jazz concert idea with her drum teacher Scott Small, who also plays percussion in a number of local bands. Both Small and O’Brien love the idea of showcasing the outstanding talents of students and alumni of Whidbey Island schools along with those of professional musicians.
“There’s a bunch of world-class musicians on Whidbey Island who are laying low and wearing beige who perform in big cities elsewhere,” said Small. “We want them to perform here so we can hear them, too. Plus, what a boost for young musicians to play alongside these masters.”
The first concert at OutCast on Oct. 6 featured South Whidbey High School senior Sean Leisle playing solo jazz guitar and paying homage to musical master Eric Clapton and others. He warmed up the audience for Latin jazz played later by Bahia that had audience members swaying to the conga beat.
Joining Leisle and Bahia for a few tunes was upright bassist Keegan Harshman, 20, who mesmerized the audience with his flying fingering and command of his instrument. Backing up the younger players on drums was Scott Small, who also played with Bahia later.
The first concert was a benefit for local musicians Kristi O’Donnell and Keith Bowers, whose home was burglarized in late September. Original music by Bowers and several valuable instruments were stolen, along with other irreplaceable personal items. The benefit netted $600.
The second concert Oct. 14 featured the South Whidbey Jazz Collective, a group originally formed as a reunion of the award-winning 2009 South Whidbey High School Jazz Ensemble.
“Several of these young musicians are now rising stars in the professional music community,” Small said. “Keegan Harshman, son of South Whidbey High School band director Chris Harshman, anchored the group on bass, with Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews doing double duty on keyboards and sax, joined by 2011 graduate Sydney Hauser on sax.”
“I rounded out the group on drums,” Small said. “I have a great time working with these young players because they are so quick and flexible.”
The South Whidbey Jazz Collective will return to the OutCast stage Sunday, Nov. 11 and Dec. 9.
The Oct. 21 concert featured Small again, this time playing with his son Jonathan, a gifted bassist who is studying performance and composition at Cornish College for the Arts in Seattle.
“It’s the first time in almost two years that I had to work with Jon because he’s been so busy studying jazz at Cornish,” said Small. “He was a good player when he started college, so I expected something really spectacular from him at this concert.”
The Small Jazz Orchestra plays original treatments of jazz standards, plus original compositions by Jon Small.
The Oct. 28 concert featured Coupeville Middle/High School band teacher Jamar Jenkins on guitar and local sax player Ryan Rogers playing sultry, smooth jazz.
“Jamar Jenkins, aka ‘Mr. J.,’ has roots in jazz funk that go all the way back to the legendary Seattle band ‘Cold, Bold and Together,’ the group that launched Kenny G’s career,” Small said.
Bahia will be back Nov. 4 and Dec 3, and Jenkins and Rogers will reappear Nov. 25 and Dec. 23.
In between repeat performers, the concert series welcomes singer Eleanor Fye and Friends on Nov. 18, and virtuoso jazz guitarist Troy Chapman on Dec. 16.
Concert profits benefit the musicians, with a small fee to use OutCast Productions’ lighting equipment. Admission costs $10 for adults, $5 for students. A listing of performers and concert dates can be found at outcastproductions.net.
“We want people to come and see all the bands,” O’Brien said. “The jazz series will be a success if we can establish a loyal, regular audience for these concerts. And what I love most about this idea is having a student act to open each performance.”
“It’s a real, professional gig for these young musicians,” Small said.
Concerts are at 7 p.m. Sundays at the Island County Fairgrounds in Langley.
Nov. 4: Bahia
Nov. 11: S.W. Jazz Collective
Nov. 18: Eleanor Fye
Nov. 25: Jamar Jenkins
For a complete schedule, visit outcastproductions.net.