Focus on jazz at the new all-ages Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center

by Raleigh Davis

The spirit of jazz is burning bright in the heart of Julian MacDonough. Some may say it’s an old or tired genre but he doesn’t believe it for a second… In fact he believes that jazz can blossom in the public eye once again if someone would just be willing to put on the shows and teach it to the kids. That’s where the Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center comes in. A personal project for MacDonough, he is hoping the Center will help ignite the passion that he feels for jazz in the younger generations of upcoming musicians as well as the community.jazz center web

“The goal of it really is to just provide an all-ages space where people can hear and learn from really good jazz music in town…” explained MacDonough. “It’s not a bar, it’s not food focused, it’s really all about the music.”

The plan is to create jazz quintets of younger students to be taught and mentored by an experienced professional jazz musicians. The groups will practice their music and then perform shows in which they book their own gigs, put together their own set-lists and learn how to publicize their performances as well their selves as musicians.

“It’ll be great!,” exclaimed MacDonough. “I started gigging when I was in my teens and it really would have been nice to have more mentorship… there’s some traps you can avoid… you don’t have to drive to Spokane to play someone’s basement just because you feel like that’s the only way.”

Thus, the Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center (WJ-MAC if you’re into acronyms) is all about providing options. Whether you want to be a student in their program or just enjoy their Wednesday night concerts (located at The Majestic, WJMAC’s home) featuring big talented names in the jazz world it’s all encouraged. WJMAC grants the ability for people of all ages and backgrounds to come together and enjoy the fine art form that is jazz. Julian cited this as being important to him due in part to his experience as a child pining to hear his musician dad perform.

“My dad was a jazz musician, and when I was growing up here I always wanted to go hear him play, I was very interested in going to hear the music,” said MacDonough, “But it was always in bars… I remember asking him if I could just hang outside of the Beach House Pub, but he said he wasn’t going to let me stand out on Railroad till midnight.”

Understandably, jazz has been a huge part of MacDonough’s life. He’s been playing most of his life and is sad to see its decline in the mainstream forums. His main goal with the Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center is to hopefully turn that around and to point younger musicians who are interested in jazz in the right direction and give them the tools to forge their own musical path.

“It’s funny to me that this music isn’t presented in the public… like pop culture,” MacDonough said. “When I was growing up late night television at least had big bands, there was some jazz in the consciousness… but it’s pretty much gone now. So these kids won’t know about it… They won’t even know where to look for it if they don’t know it’s there so I’m hoping that this expands some awareness of the music and the art form.”

The Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center already has classes filling up and some notable artists booked to play, as things are ramping up Julian is looking towards the future brightly.

“I think the one-year goal right now would be to have one night a week of regional acts, and then one night a week to feature more local-oriented groups that want to build and have a place to work things out… there really isn’t a place to do that for jazz anymore,” he said. “Then we want to expand the educational aspects, I really want to push that because I really wanted a place to play music as a kid and was always interested in jazz.”

The Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center will have its grand opening on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at The Majestic featuring Seattle sensations trumpeter Thomas Marriott, alto saxophonist Mark Taylor, pianist Tony Foster, bassist Michael Glynn and our very own Julian MacDonough on drums. Their high school jazz combo program begins on Nov. 3 with a performance to hopefully follow suit.

For more information see the WJ-MAC website at

Published in the November 2014 issue of What’s Up! Magazine