In the Spotlight
Steve Griggs and his wife Doris Kogan have been Lakeview clients since 2000. We asked Steve to share some of the highlights of his musical journey as a jazz musician and his current project at the Panama Hotel.
As a musician for four decades, what and why I perform continues to evolve. I have led ensembles at Jazz Alley and Bumbershoot. In 1998, I recorded two CDs with jazz drummer Elvin Jones which aired on Voice of America. In 2006, I performed improvised saxophone solos on the Xbox video game soundtrack for Halo 3: ODST which sold two million copies in the first 24 hours. In 2010, I won the Longfellow Chorus Award of Distinction for a musical setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Moonlight.” My current project is funded by a generous grant from King County’s 4Culture Historic Site Specific program.
For the King County grant, I chose to create a new set of music for the Panama Hotel. This 103 year old building marks the geographic center of Seattle’s Japan town. When Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II, they stored personal items in the building’s basement. Some unclaimed items remain to this day.
Novelist Jamie Ford recently wrote Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet in which an imaginary recording by a Seattle jazz musician is one of these stored treasures. My initial inspiration for the program of music was to compose and perform this fictional song.
Nine months of research into Seattle jazz and the Japanese American experience opened my eyes to hidden histories in our community. The Panama Hotel Jazz project now had a subtext – Music Made from Memories. I posted findings from my research at www.panamahoteljazz.blogspot.com. In addition to my initial idea, I developed a spoken narrative of compelling history to set up 11 musical scenes performed by a jazz quintet.
In September, our group performed a series of free performances in the intimate Panama Hotel Tea Room at 605 South Main Street. The musicians (Jay Thomas – trumpet, myself – saxophone, Susan Pascal – vibraphone, Milo Petersen – guitar, Phil Sparks – bass) continue to elevate their performances. I will record the music in September for commercial release.
I hope to expand on this combination of historical research, narrative nonfiction and music performance in future projects. To find out more, visit www.stevegriggsmusic.com.