Jazz collective changes tune, shape as needed

Bands on Whidbey Island have a dilemma when it comes to performing, according to Langley resident Don Wodjenski.

There aren’t many venues to play, and space is often limited in the select few restaurants and bars that house live music. It requires flexibility.

Wodjenski’s band, Island Jazz Collective, has that quality.

“We can play as a duo, trio, quartet or quintet,” Wodjenski said. “If the request is for a bigger group, we have friends who sing and/or play other instruments, thus the ‘collective’ in our name.”

Island Jazz Collective is a rotating cast of musicians that changes lineups as the performance space requires. In its purest form, the band is a quintet. The collective tends to play jazz standards, playing everything from Duke Ellington to Thelonious Monk to music suited to a lounge. Such is the nature of their flexibility that they also branch out into other genres such as Latin, swing and bossa nova.

Its members come from all over Whidbey; Wodjenski on tenor and soprano saxophone is based out of South Whidbey, bassist Dale Stirling and drummer Ken Bloomquist hail from Coupeville, keyboards player Dr. Bob Wagner lives in the Penn Cove area and guitarist Mark Strohschein is from Oak Harbor. It’s a truly all-island band, Wodjenski says, and regular performances all over the island support that claim.

The band has performances slated in Oak Harbor on New Year’s Eve and in Langley at Ott & Murphy on Jan. 13.

The sheer number of performances suggest they’re, in a way, the island’s house jazz band.

“Don was telling me we’ve played 58 shows this year so far,” Bloomquist said. “That’s more than a show a week, but we have a good time playing together every time.”

Island Jazz Collective’s flexible lineup is partially a result of the band members’ desire to play all the time.

Naturally, not everyone can make their weekly gigs due to various scheduling conflicts, but that isn’t a problem for them. Such is the free form nature of jazz, Wodjenski says, that instruments can be added and dropped easily.

All it takes is some additional practice.

The band’s malleability also comes down to necessity. Whidbey Island’s music venues, which are few in number and often tucked in a corner at restaurants or bars, don’t always have room for larger setups.

The band found out through trial and error that their keys player or the drummer couldn’t always squeeze into the performance space. It led to experimenting with saxophone-bass duets, guitar, drums and keys trios and so on.

“It’s great for the island because there are different venues that are so small they can’t have a quintet,” Bloomquist said. “We’re adaptable enough to where we can switch it up to just about one person to five people. It’s more of a collective than a band in that sense.”

Even if 58 performances this year seems like a lot for a non-career band, Island Jazz Collective’s members don’t feel as if they bit off more than they can chew.

They want the busy schedule, Wodjenski and Bloomquist say, as long as it means they get to strut their stuff on whatever stage they play.

“When we get together it’s serious play, but we always enjoy it,” Wodjenski said.

“We’re not stiff, we have a good time making people happy with our music. That’s what it’s all about.”

Contributed photo — The jazz group features members from across the island. From left to right: Dr. Bob Wagner, Mark Strohschein, Don Wodjenski, Dale Stirling and Ken Bloomquist.

Contributed photo — The jazz group features members from across the island. From left to right: Dr. Bob Wagner, Mark Strohschein, Don Wodjenski, Dale Stirling and Ken Bloomquist.

Contributed photo — Ken Bloomquist drums during a past Oak Harbor Music Festival.

Contributed photo — Ken Bloomquist drums during a past Oak Harbor Music Festival.

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