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John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet at the Earshot Jazz Festival

Gerald Albright

Nearly five years after his death, Grover Washington Jr. continues to light a fire under smooth-jazz musicians and fans. Before the opening sax notes blasted through the newly renovated McCall Hall in the shadow of the Space Needle, a hushed audience watched a short clip of Washington performing at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre in July 1999, just five months before he died of a heart attack at age 56. Before long, though, the atmosphere turned respectfully rowdy as Washington’s energetic sax lines brightened the familiar tunes “Winelight” and “Mr. Magic.”

And when saxophonists Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot and Paul Taylor bounded on stage to play “Knucklehead,” joined by keyboardist/musical director Jeff Lorber, the audience was primed to party. And the Groovin’ for Grover concept, now touring nationwide, is a concert bound to draw in rapt audiences familiar with Washington’s music and the styles of the three saxers on stage. All are intimately familiar with the late saxman’s music, and all participated on Jason Miles’ tribute project from 2001, To Grover With Love.

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