Staying on the Beat

In a tiny room in a dark bar in a corner of the city, Don Goodwin and friends are keeping Spokane jazz alive.

Dru Heller (drums), Don Goodwin (keys), Josh Simon (bass): committing acts of public syncopation - AMY HUNTER
Amy Hunter
Dru Heller (drums), Don Goodwin (keys), Josh Simon (bass): committing acts of public syncopation

Jazz audiences can seem like a thoughtful bunch — always furrowing their brows and concentrating. Why don’t they get up and dance? Well, they’re listening— really listening, with something like the intensity involved in reading a good story. Don’t bother me, man. I gotta hear what happens next.

It’s been happening at the Swamp. In an out-of-the-way industrial sector squeezed between the freeway and the railroad tracks, the friendly neighborhood tavern has offered, for the past two years’ worth of Tuesdays, the closest thing Spokane has had to a consistent jazz club since the demise of ella’s at CenterStage in 2008.

Keyboardist Don Goodwin has been leading the charge, and on a recent Tuesday night, the opening set was typical for Goodwin’s trio: a mix of standards, Goodwin’s own originals, and more contemporary pieces by the likes of Keith Jarrett.

During Ben Allison’s “Harlem River Line,” it was fun to watch the interplay: Josh Simon’s bass guitar thumping and handing off to Goodwin’s keyboard for some up-tempo runs, and then the brighter colors of tonight’s guest trumpeter, Kevin Woods, coming in before drummer Dru Heller shifted the rhythm and launched into a solo.

Suddenly pensive listeners became less pensive: The man next to me slapped his thigh and jumped in his seat. Some guy in the back bellowed, “Yeah!!”

One of the pleasures of jazz in live performance is seeing the improvisations happen. Woods would state a brassy melody, then Heller would point with his sticks so that Goodwin could coax chords out of his synthesizer before making eye contact with Simon and opening up space for a bass solo.

“Creating or composing music right now, based on a framework that’s happening around you,” Goodwin would later write in an email, has its own special joys. “It’s at once leading the group to certain places while also allowing yourself to be led by the other members of the group. The framework that you’re working from can be as complex as many chord changes in rapid succession — with rhythmic hits to follow — or it can be a simple chord groove with a repeating bass line.

“Either way, you’re simply trying to create something meaningful — almost like writing your own chapter of the book — while being a member of the ensemble.”

Goodwin may be a university instructor — his day job involves teaching everything from small-group jazz to music theory to marching band at EWU — but he warns potential listeners away from regarding jazz as too brainy.

After all, you can clearly hear rock and pop in the jazz they’re playing. “We make a concerted effort every week to play quite a few songs that people will recognize from other genres — i.e., Beatles songs, Radiohead songs, Bjork songs, etc.,” Goodwin writes. “Also, I find my favorite type of song to improvise over is one in which there is a consis tent

groove over a repetitive bass line, and that is decidedly funk/rock/pop-influenced. In other words, a large portion of what we do is rock or pop music. It’s just that there isn’t a vocalist who delivers a message in the song — it’s up to the listeners to create a narrative based on the sound of the instruments.”

By 10 pm, an hour into the three-hour gig, two dozen people are listening — some talking, some intent. In keeping with the groove, heads nod up and down. Underneath tables, legs bob with the beat.

The Swamp folks aren’t dancing in the aisles or going crazy. They’re sitting quietly, as if each listener were reading his or her own particular book of jazz.

Don Goodwin and his mates are writing those books, right then and there.

Don Goodwin Trio and guests • Tuesdays from 9 pm - midnight • No cover • The Swamp Tavern • 1904 W. Fifth Ave. • 458-BEER

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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.