Arts and Entertainment

‘Jazz Canvas’ creating new art experience for Kitsap

New Kitsap performing art group Jazz Canvas. - Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo
New Kitsap performing art group Jazz Canvas.
— image credit: Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo

A new artistic performance group in Kitsap is aiming to spread not only a love of jazz but also a better understanding of it.

“The genre of jazz is all-encompassing. As long as you’re improvising there is no limit to what you can do,” said Terry Marsh, drummer for Jazz Canvas. “There’s something for everyone in jazz.”

Poulsbo-based Jazz Canvas is comprised of three permanent members: Terry Marsh, bassist Tracie Marsh and painter Leigh Knowles, who paints musically inspired works onstage during their concerts. Its guest members are often big-city players who step in for a one-night piano or sax performance.

Pianist Josh Mason and saxophonist Dave Carson will join Jazz Canvas for a performance at 7 p.m. Friday, June 4, at the Knowles Studio, 20432 Noll Road, Poulsbo.

Setting painting to music isn’t new, and there are similar groups across the globe, but Jazz Canvas is developing a fresh art outlet especially for Kitsap ears.

The group was formed earlier this year, and wants to make fans of those who’ve previously found jazz haphazard or confusing. Terry Marsh said the addition of a painter on stage has allowed some audience members to appreciate a genre of music they previously didn’t understand.

“It really does bring this style to the masses,” he said. “It makes it more attainable.”

Jazz is an unpredictable art, and a jazz quartet is the musical version of an ungoverned four-way stop, said Terry Marsh, 35. Players must show both ego and humility, navigating the many unplanned syncopations and polyrhythms between fundamental standards.

“We truly have a dialogue on stage,” Tracie Marsh said. That dialogue is often visible, to the benefit of the audience.

Jazz originated in the early 20th century; it has spanned New Orleans’ Dixieland, swing, bebop and fusion, acclimating to various regions and cultures, making it a multiculti, multi-faceted genre. Jazz Canvas moves freely from covering the likes of free jazzist John Coltrane to recognizables of other musical categories — think anything from Cuban rhythms to John Mayer.

“You have a blueprint, a musical foundation to work from, but you’re improvising the whole time,” said Tracie Marsh. “That’s the cool thing about what Leigh does: She’s improvising as well as us.”

For Knowles’ part, it’s a balance of nerves and awareness. She doesn’t prepare or plan a painting ahead of time, “which is a little nerve-wracking,” she said. But she can also become so consumed with the sound of the music, she forgets she’s being watched and loses herself to the creativity. Once, when a trumpeter turned to her directly and blasted his horn, she followed the urge to pick up a glob of paint and splat it against the canvas. The audience gasped.

Sometimes Knowles turns a canvas upside down half-way through the piece. It’s all in direct response to the music, she said, and not controlled by a technical process of thought. She listens to the tempos, the rhythms and the energy of the players.

“When people come and are inspired by this, that’s awesome. You really can’t ask for more,” she said.

Knowles, 50, has taught art for 22 years, a dozen of them at Poulsbo’s West Sound Academy. She works with oils, acrylics and water colors, and also makes prints. The aim of her studio, where Jazz Canvas often performs, is to help others realize the playfulness and purposefulness of exercising one’s creativity — an activity being cut from the budgets of many schools and often nixed in the full schedules of hard-working adults.

Terry and Tracie, who are married, both studied at Washington State University. He played for the Air Force Band in Boston, developed the music program at West Sound Academy and founded The Drummers Den. Tracie, 34, served as principle bass for the New Hampshire Philharmonic. WU

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