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"SWOJO is tremendous, powerful and inspiring! ...Wow, burning, swingin' and all of those other jazz words."

Gabriel Alegria, President of the La Asociación Internacional Jazz Perú

"The energy and environment created by the performers in SWOJO is very unique and real. One is immediately swept up by the magnetic personality of this band, both musically and emotionally. They are extremely well-rehearsed, and each player seems dedicated to the mission of having an extremely polished group."

Dr. Michael Caldwell, Editor, International Trumpet Guild Journal, ITG Board of Directors

"I have been in the business for over 20+ years and have not worked with a more dedicated, more professional group of musicians. It was your essence as artists that has made the experience a complete joy. You are all truly gifted and exceptional musicians."

Ava Hammond, Arts Program Administrator, SE Effective Development

"The charts were phenomenally interesting and the playing was extraordinary."

Audience member, SWOJO's Earshot Jazz Festival performance 2013

"Please continue to offer shows where women are the primary performers."

Audience member, SWOJO's Earshot Jazz Festival performance 2014

"When I hear your music, it makes my feet burn."

Ed O'Neill, former resident of Queen Anne Manor, where the orchestra rehearsed

Meeting of the Waters
Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra | OA2 Records

by Jack Bowers
All About Jazz, April 24, 2007

Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra | OA2 Records

by Jack Bowers
All About Jazz, November 22, 2004
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2004 AllAboutJazz.com and Jack Bowers.

Here's more conclusive evidence, if any were needed, that jazz is no longer solely a man's game. The Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra joins the burgeoning ranks of all-female big bands that include DIVA, Maiden Voyage, Germany's United Women's Orchestra, Japan's Blue Aeronauts and ensembles led by Chrissy Lee and Kit McClure with an auspicious debut album that proves there's much more than redwoods, rain and remarkably handsome scenery in the Pacific Northwest.

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that SWOJO isn't entirely comprised of women—Scott Fry is the drummer, Dennis Haldane plays lead trumpet on eight of the album's eleven tracks, and music director/trumpeter Daniel Barry is a guest soloist on his rhythmically evocative composition, “Two to Tango.” Barry, who has helped guide the orchestra since its inception some four years ago, also wrote “The Hiding Place,” “Nisqually Riff” and the album's perky signature song, ”Dreamcatcher.”

Those exceptions aside, what we have is sophisticated big band jazz expertly performed by members of the fairer sex who presumably hadn't been told they're unable to do that. Any such reservations are quickly erased as the orchestra easily nails Johnny Griffin's loping “63rd Street Theme,” neatly scored by Al Farlow and featuring trumpeter Angela Smith and guest tenor Sue Orfield (who reappears on ”Nisqually Riff,” “Dreamcatcher” and Kim Richmond's shuffling “Big Mama Louise”). Trombonists Carolyn Caster and Mariah Ralston are splendid on Chico O'Farrill's “Pure Emoción,” as are alto Lisa Gordanier (”Hiding Place”), trumpeters Angela Smith (”Mama Louise”) and Shelly Devlin (”The Peanut Vendor”), tenor Sheryl Clark (”A Foggy Day”), vibist Susan Pascal (”Nisqually Riff”) and pianist Ann Reynolds (”Hiding Place,” “Peanut Vendor,” “Tango,” “Dreamcatcher”). Guest vocalist Greta Matassa is no laggard either, as she affirms on lively renditions of “Fly Me to the Moon” and Bobby Darin's “As Long as I'm Singing.”

The album was recorded from February-August '03 at four venues, including an appearance at the XIII Festival Jazz in Lima, Peru (track 10). Five tracks (1-4, 11) were taped in a studio, the others at the Tacoma Jazz Festival or Seattle's Jazz Alley. In every case, SWOJO is squarely on top of its game, carefully burnishing every chart to lay bare its inherent radiance and charm. If the orchestra isn't quite as muscular as many of its male counterparts, time and seasoning should serve to redress that trifling flaw. As Dreamcatcher suggests, SWOJO is remarkably impressive ensemble, one whose energy and talent assuredly point toward a bright and productive future.

Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra | OA2 Records

by Howard Mandel
Jazziz, March 2005

Born in 2000, the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra has a thoroughly professional, bold, glossy, and swinging sound derived from the ’50s Basie book and subsequent big show bands. Alto saxophonist Barbara Hubers-Drake co-founded the not-for-profit corporation, and trombonist Carolyn Caster is its current executive director, while composer-trumpeter-educator-music publisher Daniel Barry is musical director. The 16-piece ensemble is mostly drawn from the Pacific Northwest’s flourishing corps of full- and part-time female instrumentalists, with lead trumpeter Dennis Haldane and drummer Scott Fry here proving that guys can play jazz, too.

The SWJO can’t be described as cutting edge. Its repertoire — recorded in concert at Seattle’s Jazz Alley, the Tacoma Jazz Festival, and the XIII Festival Jazz in Lima, Peru — comprises such staples as “Peanut Vendor” (arranged by Dick Vance, circa 1939), Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day,” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” (arranged by Sammy Nestico in the late ’60s). But straightahead cohesion has its satisfactions. All 11 tracks of Dreamcatcher present the power of flashy fanfares and pleasures inherent in well-tempered section work.

Guest tenor saxophonist Sue Orfield solos on three pieces, including Johnny Griffin’s “63rd Street Theme,” ably embodying bluesy modernism, and guest Susan Pascal’s vibes add a beguiling texture under and after Orfield on Daniel Barry’s “Nisqually Riff.” Orchestra pianist Ann Reynolds shows an ease with jazz’s Latin tinge on Chico O’Farill’s “Pura Emoción,” Barry’s “The Hiding Place” and “Two to Tango,” as well as a nice touch at middling tempos. Vocalist Greta Matassa credibly delivers the lyrics of Bobby Darin’s “As Long As I’m Singing” and “Fly Me,” although on her scat chorus on the latter, her rhythm seems to slightly drag.

Assuming that the release of this debut album establishes the SWJO as a fixture on its local scene, now’s the time to risk even more passion and originality.

Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra | OA2 Records

by Dan McClenaghan
All About Jazz, October 2004
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2004 AllAboutJazz.com and Dan McClenaghan.

According to the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra web site,

The Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra was formed to nurture the musical, educational and artistic growth of individual musicians, to encourage women to become involved in jazz performance/composition as a career or avocation, and to foster community interest in and appreciation of jazz as an art form.

It's a mission statement with admirable intentions; and if Dreamcatcher, the group's recent set of concert performances, is a measurment of their progress toward the mission, I'd say they're on their way. Indeed, the ladies kick some mission keister here.

The first thing that jumped out was Ann Reynolds' piano on “The Hiding Place,” a sound with a real zing to it, underscoring how important it is to have a vibrant musician in the piano chair on a big band set. The song churns forward on an easy-swinging Latin groove under the band's cool harmony, featuring laid back and straight-at-you alto sax solo by Lisa Gordanier. “Big Mama Louise,” a bright and sassy Kim Richmond tune, features some Ellingtonian reed harmony, a tangy trumpet solo by Angela Smith in front of the rhythm section sounding especially buoyant before Sue Orfield blows in on a tart tenor sax turn.

Gershwin's “A Foggy Day” serves as role of standard here, a brighter, a more finger-snappingly uptempo take than you normally here of the marvelous song, with Sheryl Clark's smooth-flowing tenor sax solo that builds in intensity and draws a well-deserved shout from the crowd as it crescendos.

A fine set of big band sounds; with the bonus of Greta Matassa's upbeat vocals on “Fly Me to the Moon” and “As Long As I'm Singing”; but the biggest bonuses are the four Daniel Barry tunes. The band's driector, Barry is new to me, but he writes an interesting and engaging song. “Nisqually Riff” slinks in on a sort of dark Henry Mancini groove, with Sue Pascal's vibes setting a soft glow behind the understated, yet still intense atmosphere of the arrangement.

The band's only four years old, but we'll here more from them and Barry.

Jazz & Classics
Kelly's Goes Broadband

by Harvey Siders
Tacoma Reporter - April 3, 2003

It took three years for the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra to reach Red Kelly's Den of Antiquity---an amazing oversight considering the 17-piece band boasts the top female instrumentalists from Tacoma and our big northern suburb. Where does one go from Kelly's? Well, from April 7 to April 12, the glass-ceiling shatterers will be a featured part of the Lima Jazz Festival, plus an engagement at the American Embassy there.

Ever since saxophonist Barbara Hubers-Drake got a gleam in her eye and a dream in her ear and convinced bassist Ellen Finn to become a co-founder, the SWOJO has been swinging their collective butts off at various local venues, but more importantly, they've been rehearsing weekly at a Queen Anne nursing home---a mutually beneficial arrangement that delights its occupants and sharpens the band.

Enter Daniel Barry, armed with credentials of a musical Renaissance man: equally at home in the milieux of jazz and classical and boasting a Doctorate in Composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is head honcho of Marina Music, selling his charts all over this planet and last year issuing an album of his works played by the Jazz Police on the Origin label.

Since he took over as music director last fall, it's been an upward spiral for SWOJO. At their Lima warm-up last week at Kelly's, Barry showed why. He is so confident that his arrangements clearly communicate to the musicians, he merely kicks off the tempo, then stands aside (SWOJO doesn't need a human metronome), enjoys the solo statements of saxophonists like Lisa Gordanier, Hubers-Drake and particularly Sheryl Clark; plus trumpeter Sarah Nelson … or his own inventive trumpet playing.

He's there to guide them through the tempo changes, dynamic shadings and controlled chaos of Mingus' "Fables of Faubus," which includes passing tones for the SWOJO "glee club;" play left-handed cowbell on "Simone" (named for his oldest daughter) and be part of a trio of Caribbean conch shells, playing a spontaneous, quarter-tone lament with no name. (May I suggest "The Wailing Whales of Wales?")

Next Tacoma gig for SWOJO? Tacoma Jazz Festival, May 23-24.

Where The Girls Are: Big Band Mojo with SWOJO

by Todd Mathews (Earshot Jazz)

When Barbara Hubers-Drake recalls the impetus to form the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra (SWOJO), one particular story comes to mind. While touring high schools with her daughter, Hubers-Drake visited the music section of one notable, area school. “I noticed there were a bunch of kids jamming,” she recalls. “I also noticed all the kids were boys.” When Hubers-Drake’s daughter commented that it appeared music was just for boys, the Seattle resident was unnerved. “I sort of freaked out,” she adds. “It made me kind of sad. The only way to counteract that feeling was to do something about it.”

Though she had not picked up a musical instrument in twenty-five years (she had played piano, guitar, accordion and bassoon earlier in life), Hubers-Drake contacted her friend Ellen Finn and the pair attended music classes: Hubers-Drake learned to play tenor saxophone; Finn picked up the bass. Shortly thereafter, the pair decided to form a big band, recruiting area female musicians. In April 2000, SWOJO was born.

This month the group will perform at Jazz Alley (with vocalist Greta Matassa, Sue Orfield on tenor saxophone, and Susan Pascal on vibraphone) before heading to Peru in April to perform at the Lima Jazz Festival.

That the group exists — let alone headline at popular jazz venues such as Tula’s and Red Kelly’s in Tacoma — is an anomaly of sorts. Local representation of female jazz musicians is embarrassingly slim. Quick! How many female-led combos in Seattle can you name? Yet, SWOJO has managed to pull some of the finest local talent into its fold. Lead Trombonist Carolyn Caster is active in the local big band scene, performing in Brian Kirk’s Jazz Orchestra, ConEd Art Ensemble, Jazz Police, Jay Thomas’s Friendly Fire, Kings of Swing, Route 66, Portage Bay Big Band, and others. Trumpeter Marge Rosen has performed for over twenty-five years, appearing in the United States Navy Band (she performed for President Clinton, numerous foreign dignitaries, and at the 1994 World Cup) and at Carnegie Hall and Benaroya Hall. Saxophonist Sheryl Clark is actively involved in the Swing Reunion Orchestra, Tacoma Concert Band, Gig Harbor Dixieland Band — and she was named the 1997 Tacoma Summy “Blues Woman of the Year.” These three women represent only a short-list of the group’s remarkable talent. Couple the stellar personnel with its accomplished musical director, Dr. Daniel Barry, and it is no surprise that SWOJO has made a notable impact on the Pacific Northwest big band scene.

“I was really a supporter as soon as they formed,” comments Barry. Over tea and espresso at a Wallingford coffee shop with Hubers-Drake and me, the composer raves about SWOJO. “I thought at the time, ‘What a great idea. This is perfect.’ I have three young daughters at home. They all study piano. The idea of role models — women playing jazz, having fun, being on stage, and performing well. It’s totally appealing to me.”

SWOJO started out rehearsing at Queen Anne Manor, a nursing home located in a suburb of Seattle. A 16-piece big band rehearsing in the basement of a nursing home? The pairing was odd. Nevertheless, the arrangement has proved fruitful for both parties (three years later, the band still rehearses there). “They opened their doors to us because they thought we would be of benefit to the people who live there,” comments Hubers-Drake. “We have had some people who come every rehearsal and really look forward to it.” Early on, one resident (a dancing enthusiast, no doubt) commented, ‘Listening to your music makes my feet burn.’ “I thought that was a great compliment,” recalls Hubers-Drake.

While the musicians continued rehearsing (performing occasional gigs), they actively sought a Musical Director. Barry’s name was mentioned at the outset. “Ellen was familiar with his music,” recalls Hubers-Drake. “She said, ‘We’ve got to play some of it right away.’ In fact, from the time we started, Ellen kept saying, ‘We have to get Daniel. We have to figure out a way to get Daniel.’”

Barry smiles, adding, “There was a turning point when I was invited to a rehearsal. I came in without any agenda. There was no sort of premonition of what the future may hold. That seemed to be fine. I introduced myself to everybody. It was a good rehearsal. We talked further.” Then and now, Barry’s plate is always full. Many of the projects he was working on at the time are still actively in production today. He is involved in Jazz Police (a contemporary big band), Red Fish Blue Fish (an 8-piece Latin jazz ensemble), and the Daniel Barry Music Group (a chamber music collective). He is also directing the Jazz Combo at MusicWorks Northwest, and is a Master Artist and Mentor for the Artist Apprenticeship and Young Jazz Composers program at Seattle’s Experience Music Project. Moreover, he is the owner/operator of Marina Music Service and Daniel Barry Publications.

Still, working with SWOJO was important to Barry. “I do a lot of work with music education,” he explains. “I’m in the schools conducting clinics and workshops — there’s a real need for female musicians to get plugged into the jazz programs. They are there, but not to the same degree as the males coming through.”

Though he was initially hesitant to put too many of his original compositions in front of the band, Barry has been encouraged to bring in more material. The group has also performed original compositions by Pacific Northwest composers such as Carmen Staaf, Nelda Swiggett, and Al Farlow. The long-term vision, according to Hubers-Drake, is to encourage female composers by way of the band.

An all-female jazz orchestra with a male musical director? It is an interesting combination. Scott Fry, the group’s male drummer, also raises some eyebrows. Moreover, the band performs compositions written by men and women. Is SWOJO about promoting women in jazz? Or is SWOJO about playing music well, regardless of gender?

“I think it’s both of those things,” says Hubers-Drake. “I would hate to have kind of an all-girls club. The idea behind music is getting it out there. We are always going to be predominantly female. That’s our role. But if it benefits the orchestra to have a male or two . . .”

Barry points out that the group’s female predominance is positively evidenced during each rehearsal and performance. “The whole big band in-your-face kind of thing is not what I am about,” he says. “This band [performs] a more artful, sensitive and appealing music. You want to balance it all, and have another side to the music that is intimate. We have the capability of doing that to a very high level. A certain aesthetic that we get just dynamically may be different from your average big band. We communicate perhaps the intimate side of repertory literature in a more powerful way than the in your face, show-time entertainment part of it.”

SWOJO will present that unique and intimate side of big band jazz at the Lima Jazz Festival this spring. Has the band traveled and performed internationally? “We’ve been to Tacoma,” says Hubers-Drake, laughing. “It’s the first international performance [for SWOJO].” The opportunity excites her on so many levels: performing with musicians from Latin America . . . playing consistently for a week (“It will be like being at a jazz camp,” she says) . . . sharing the groups music with an international audience.

Barry plans to present original compositions from a pool of Northwest writers, as well as a mix of “bread and butter” repertory: a number of Ellington tunes, as well as some Mingus Big Band numbers. “We will stay away from Peruvian jazz,” Barry says, laughing. “We’ll let them take care of that.”

The experience will surely prove to be a milestone for SWOJO. “One of the major strengths of jazz is that it’s an inclusive music,” says Barry. “It’s always invited other genres into it. Whether it’s Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, or Cuban musicians — it’s always been this melting pot. That’s the most interesting aspect of jazz — how it brings people and cultures together. We’ll come back a different orchestra. We will have heard all different kinds of stuff. It’s just an exchange that’s very healthy. We’ll take down what we do best and move from there.”

The Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra (SWOJO) will be performing live at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley on Monday, February 10, 2003 at 8:00 p.m. To learn more about SWOJO, visit the group online at www.swojo.com.

originally published in Earshot Jazz, February 01, 2003

From the January 2002 Issue of the IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) Publication:

The Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra (SWOJO) is pleased to announce the appointment of Daniel Barry as Musical Director.

Daniel Barry is a composer, arranger, music educator, publisher and trumpet player currently living in Seattle, Washington. Barry's recent commissions include orchestral, big band, chamber, and choral music compositions. His most recent recording, The Jazz Police: the Music of Daniel Barry, has received rave reviews.

In addition to the Jazz Police, Barry currently fronts 'red fish blue fish', an 8 piece Latin jazz ensemble, and, more recently, the Daniel Barry Music Group which performs intimate chamber music pieces that incorporate improvisation in a rich variety of styles. Though Barry's work as a composer falls primarily into the jazz category, his music contains elements garnered from residencies and travels throughout the world, in particular the Caribbean, Central America, and Brazil.

In addition to serving as the Musical Director for SWOJO, Barry currently directs the Jazz Combo at Musicworks Northwest, is a Master Artist and Mentor for the Artist Apprenticeship and Young Jazz Composers program at Seattle's Experience Music Project. He is the owner/operator of Marina Music Service and Daniel Barry Publications, and holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

SWOJO has been performing in the Seattle area since January 2000. Co-founders Barbara Hubers-Drake and Ellen Finn have assembled a group of leading female jazz artists in the Pacific Northwest to support women in the performance of various styles of big band music and feature the charts of local composers. With the addition of Daniel Barry as Musical Director, the band will be increasing its repertoire of Latin jazz.

Originally published in IAJE, January, 2002.


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