Jazz trio to help at new arts school

School is about to start and summer's nearing the end. This summer has been loaded with so many things to see and do, arts-wise.

School is about to start and summer’s nearing the end. This summer has been loaded with so many things to see and do, arts-wise. The Forest Theater presented two great plays, “Camelot” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” Fall City, Snoqualmie and North Bend all had their summer festivals, providing brief but welcome venues for some great local artists.

In July, the Unity Theater had a fantastic fund raiser in a great location. The Nursery at Mount Si played host to “An Evening of Wine and Entertainment” in their beautiful garden at the foot of Mount Si. The evening featured a wine tasting with great wine from The Veronica, a new wine bar now open in North Bend.

The Unity Players previewed several hilarious selections from their last show, “Story Theater” (which re-opens at the Unity Theater Sept. 17 and runs for two weekends). The night was filled with amazing music. Performances of The Cascade Jazz Trio, singers Susanna Fuller and Kathleen Roche-Zujcko, the incomparable trumpet of Harley Brumbaugh and a surprise song from Mount Si Nursery’s own landscaper, Di Braun, all added to a memorable night. It felt like hanging out at a sophisticated nightclub, but the setting was a breathtaking view of Mount Si. The combination made it something people are still talking about.

Once again, I must tell you so much talent resides here in our own backyard. It deserves recognition and our support.

I was really impressed with the Cascade Jazz Trio. They were the main attraction at the Unity Theater fund raiser and a great find. The Cascade Jazz Trio provides a creative blend of standard, modern and original jazz. From swing and Latin classics to more progressive jazz by Monk and Coltrane, the trio always looks to create new environments for group improvisation. When Harley Brumbaugh joined them for a few numbers, they really cooked.

The trio has been together since 2001. They’ve performed all over; from festivals to clubs to private events. Their premier CD release, “Valley Breezes,” contains all-original jazz including the “Snoqualmie Suite,” a jazz interpretation of the sounds and moods of the Snoqualmie Valley.

John Chmaj, Brian Gmerek and Courtney Crawford comprise the group. John Chmaj (pronounced “Shmay”) plays keyboards, flute, saxophone and vocals. He’s the leader and music director for the group. He also is the curriculum coordinator and principal instructor for the School of Jazz at the new STARS Academy in North Bend.

John’s been performing professionally for the past 25 years, including the past nine in the Seattle area. He received his bachelor’s degree in jazz composition from Berklee College of Music, and his master’s degree in music from the New England Conservatory, where he has been on the faculty of graduate and undergraduate theory. He has lectured and performed in both Europe and America, and has over 200 original musical compositions to his credit. He and his family of four children, former residents of North Bend, now reside in Sammamish.

Drummer Brian Gmerek’s musical experience ranges from big-band jazz and top 40, to Christian rock and now, jazz. Brian is the driving force and business development/manager of the School of Jazz at STARS. When not performing with the jazz trio, his day job is working as a doctor of pharmacy. Brian and his family reside in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in North Bend.

Courtney Crawford (acoustic and electric bass) has been playing professionally since 1984 throughout the Northwest. He has composed several film scores and played in dozens of pit orchestras for Broadway shows. In 1986, he co-founded and played with the Olympia Chamber Orchestra. He and his family of three children now live in Bellevue.

I asked Brian how the group formed. “We met through our children’s participation in schools in the Snoqualmie Valley, including the Honey Tree Learning Center run by my wife Cheryl. John and Courtney met at Microsoft and we got together for a jam in a meeting room there and began meeting regularly after that.”

Brian is very excited about the new school of jazz, as am I. Any opportunity to get more kids involved in the arts is what it’s all about. The School of Jazz incorporates 90 minutes of instruction with theory and musical practice with the Cascade Jazz Trio. “That’s the best way to get experience – [actually] playing with a professional ensemble,” said Brian. The School of Jazz begins Monday, Sept. 12, at 5:30 p.m. at STARS, 1546 Boalch Ave., North Bend.

* To enroll or for more information, call Amy Murphy of STARS at (425) 888-4242. Tuition is $45 per 90-minute session.