Arts and Entertainment

Vibraphone-led jazz quartet on deck for First Sundays at the Commons

Pascal and her vibes. - Courtesy Photo/Susan Pascal
Pascal and her vibes.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo/Susan Pascal

She’s picking up good vibrations, Susan Pascal brings her vibes-led jazz quartet to First Sundays at the Commons, March 1.

Picking the vibraphone as your instrument of choice is akin to picking up a Hammond B3 organ.

“It’s kind of a piece of furniture to lug around,” Seattle-based jazz vibraphonist Susan Pascal said. “You always have to have a strategy for transporting it.”

For Pascal — who’s been playing the vibes for a few decades and is slated to bring them to Bainbridge for the upcoming First Sundays at the Commons concert March 1 — that strategy has been simply hauling it around in the back of her minivan.

Over the years she’s lugged her vibes around the Northwest jazz festival circuit, to various night clubs and other spots around the Sound, even as far away as Singapore. She teaches lessons and plays solo every now and then, but most often she’s heading up a quartet with an esteemed trio of Northwest jazzoids including the award-winning Bill Ansell on piano, University of Oregon professor of percussion Gary Hobbs on drums and head of the jazz department at Cornish College, Chuck Deardorf, on bass.

Those are the merry pranksters whom she’ll be bringing with her to the First Sundays at the Commons concert upcoming.

“It’s always exciting to take a band who has an established history and introduce them to a new audience,” Pascal said.

And it’s similarly exciting to introduce some folks, those who’ve never experienced live vibraphone, to a new instrument, she added.

The vibes have followed somewhat of an interesting path into jazz music. The percussion-family instrument was originally created — fashioned from the xylophone and originally called the vibraharp — for the purpose of adding to the large arsenal of percussion sound effects used by vaudeville orchestras back in the 1920s. But in the early 30s, that use was quickly overwhelmed when a jazz percussionist named Lionel Hampton (a cat now known as the “King of the Vibes”) brought the vibes into the jazz venue, creating the first known jazz vibe recording with Louis Armstrong in 1930. Later, he’d join the Benny Goodman Quintet and lead a few of his own big bands on vibes.

Nowadays, the vibraphone remains a primarily jazz-based, and sometimes novelty-type, instrument.

Pascal found her way to the vibes in high school while learning orchestral percussion at school and with groups like the Seattle Youth Symphony, playing timpani cymbals, snare drum and the like.

“But what I really loved to do was play jazz,” she said.

When she was young her mom would play Ella Fitzgerald records around the house, Pascal said, with which she was completely enamored. When She was introduced to the vibes as an instrument she could use her classical skills to play jazz, she was hooked.

“It’s got an incredible sound, it’s a beautiful sound,” she said of the vibe. “One of the things I like to do with this particular group is choose music that has a lot of beauty to it, plus songs that have a lot of rhythmic interest ... exploiting the beauty of the instrument while also exploiting the percussive, rhythmic side of it.”

She said folks who come out to First Sundays at the Commons are likely to hear some tunes they are familiar with, but a lot of music that is brand new. While she and her quartet still play some standards, she said “there are so many really incredible, beautiful compositions by contemporary jazz composers.”

So she seeks those compositions out and brings them to the world through the vibes.

Even though she’s long-finished with school and a teacher in her own right, she’s still a perpetual student of the music.

SUSAN PASCAL AND HER VIBES-LED JAZZ QUARTET will play the First Sundays at the Commons concert series at 4 p.m. March 1 at the Bainbridge Commons, 402 Brien Dr. near Waterfront Park. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 youth at the door.

Info: www.firstsundaysconcerts.org, www.susanpascal.com.

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