Arts and Entertainment

Blue Matter bids a fond farewell to Whidbey supporters

Blue Matter performs at the Greenbank Winery in August 2008, with Keegan Harshman, Ian Marsanyi, Landon Moore, Grant Neubauer and Jasper Hayes. - Photo courtesy of Ian Marsanyi
Blue Matter performs at the Greenbank Winery in August 2008, with Keegan Harshman, Ian Marsanyi, Landon Moore, Grant Neubauer and Jasper Hayes.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Ian Marsanyi

The legacy of Charlie, Dizzy, Duke and Miles is richer because of contemporary jazz artists.

And a group of talented young musicians on South Whidbey has added to that legacy.

The Blue Matter jazz combo has enriched the musical life of the South End for almost seven years.

But good things often come to an end, and the senior members of Blue Matter are graduating this year.

The band decided to take the opportunity to say thank you to the community, teachers and mentors who have supported them through the years with a farewell performance.

Blue Matter will play at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23 as part of the Local Artist Series.

The band includes Grant Neubauer on piano, Landon Moore on alto sax, Keegan Harshman on bass, Jasper Hayes on guitar and Ian Marsanyi on drums.

The combo will welcome guest artists for the performance, including former band member Tim Atkinson, Seattle musician Neil Welch and high school band director Chris Harshman, among others.

Blue Matter is an award-winning jazz group whose high school members have been together since middle school and who are all members of the South Whidbey High School Jazz Ensemble.

The combo has played numerous festivals and competitions, and has many supporters on the island who have engaged them for public and private events through the years.

Though they are young, their musical prowess is evident.

Pianist Neubauer has come a long way since the early days.

“When I started playing jazz in sixth grade, I was inspired by one pianist, Michel Camilo. He plays Latin jazz, and is very rhythmic. Back then, though, I think I liked him just because he played really fast,” Neubauer said.

“Currently, my jazz inspirations are Miles Davis (the epitome of cool), Bill Evans (for making so little sound like so much) and Aaron Parks (a fellow Whidbey Islander who has ‘made it’ in music.”

None of the band members has amateurish or youthful tastes when it comes to music.

Marsanyi mentioned some of the all-time greats of jazz as influences, such as Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham, Art Blakey, John Coltrane and James Brown.

But, like Moore, he is aware of how lucky he is to be a part of such an artistic community. His father, Robert Marsanyi, is a pianist.

“My father is always a great source of inspiration musically, performance-wise, listening-wise or even conceptually,” Marsanyi said.

Moore named band leader Chris Harshman and frequent guest teacher Neil Welch as his local jazz heroes, along with fellow jazz ensemble sax player and 2008 graduate Jeff Potter.

They began as the brainchild of Chris Harshman in 2003.

Harshman wanted the rhythm section of the school jazz ensemble to jam together and become more of a unit.

He added Moore’s saxophone and a trumpet, Atkinson, to provide melodies.

“We began by representing the school, performing at nonprofit events and small gatherings, and slowly developed our own image,” Marsanyi said.

The youthfulness of the band’s members belied their abilities, and the band continued to develop musically.

“We broke from being exclusively the middle school combo to our own entity, Blue Matter, and began performing for larger crowds and actual money,” he said.

It was a good decision. Blue Matter members went on to make a name for themselves.

Six years later, the band has played everything from gigs at Island Coffee House & Books, Clinton Days, the Island County Fair and M-Bar-C Ranch concerts to shows on the mainland such as the Best of the Northwest Arts Fair, private parties and various jazz festivals.

Blue Matter has helped islanders ring in the New Year at Useless Bay Golf and Country Club parties and at the Fish Bowl restaurant.

“We were recognized at the Lionel Hampton International Jazz festival as combo runner-up, and each member has received solo awards in various competitions, either with the larger jazz band or the combo,” Marsanyi said.

“It was a great experience, and we really bonded both musically and as friends, and to lose the musical part of this is huge,” Moore said.

Beyond the music and performance, the band also has become savvy at the business side of the music industry.

The students of the combo book all of their own gigs, working directly with community members and professionals to set up their schedule.

Additionally, they do all of their own publicity, with the loving help of their parents, Marsanyi said.

But now that the band must split up, each of them are certain Blue Matter has provided the foundation from which they can grow as musicians in the wider world.

“Next for me in music is branching out into free-improvisational music, and contemporary music in general,” Marsanyi said.

Marsanyi is particularly interested in the combination of music and electronics.

“I will also be continuing my efforts as a composer, both for small group or ensemble work and hopefully for full orchestral work as well.”

“Honestly, it’s going to be tough,” Neubauer said.

“We started our musical journey together back in seventh grade, and I strongly feel our individual talent is a direct result of playing with each other. It’s been so much fun, I don’t want to see it end.”

Neubauer hopes to attend a school with a strong music program, and is leaning toward a possible minor in music.

Moore plans on traveling for a year.

“When I get back, I am going to pick up my horn again and see where it takes me,” Moore said.

No matter what happens in the future, Blue Matter members are intent on letting the people who have supported them know how much that has meant to them.

“This gig will be a chance for Blue Matter to give back to the community that has helped us along the way,” Marsanyi said.

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