Dear Reader, please allow me to say a few words about my friend Judd Wasserman and thereby, hopefully, give you good reason to check out the Judd Wasserman Band. Yes, that’s right, I said friend, but be assured, I wouldn’t recommend a performer or event to you unless it really was worth your time. Fortunately, the Judd Wasserman Band is very accessible and easy to appreciate.
I first met Judd shortly after he had moved to Seattle back in 2006. I was the relief host for Chris Brandon’s open-mic at Mr. Spot’s Chai House, and as such I would host the second half of the evening and occasionally the entire night. At that time the Chai House served as an incubator for a lot of great talent that would come from as far as Olympia to participate. Many people, too numerous to name or even count, who were frequent performers there are now active professional and semi-professional musicians in our area. It was a unique nexus of people, time, and place. And then it was no more. Judd was one of these people.
Judd would come in and perform, occasionally by himself, but usually with his partner at the time in their project called the Forget-Me-Nots. They would perform songs he had written and arranged that were catchy, intriguing, yet not poppy. His songs seemed to breathe; they were never in a hurry to express every idea right away or to subdue you with speed or volume. There was a calm and introspective quality to them. I enjoyed listening to his CD and can still sing a few of the tracks on command. I recognized that Wasserman was serious about his music but didn’t yet understand just how much he had worked to get there. Although I was aware that he had lived in Olympia, I did not know that he had moved there from Westport, Connecticut to complete a degree at Evergreen.
It was in Olympia that Judd had his first taste of professional momentum when his band The Paisties was recruited for A.J. Schnack’s film, Kurt Cobain: About A Son. This experience had him working around the sort of people he aspired to be. It even landed him in a photo-shoot with iconic music photographer Charles Peterson. Although The Paisties ultimately ran their course, Judd was not the sort of person to believe that his moment had passed. With greater confidence and enthusiasm he decided he needed to get to the bottom of how music works—how it all fits together, not just intuitively but academically. This is how Judd Wasserman came to Seattle in 2006 to complete a second degree in Music at Cornish College of the Arts.
There is often a great divide between musicians who are self-taught and those who have studied music in some formal manner. We often speak different languages and easily find ourselves on the outside of others’ understanding. I liken this to the difference between Shakespearean trained actors and those who have studied comedy and improv. Although there can be a workable synthesis, more often than not it just doesn’t seem to happen. Indeed, the contrast between the different skill sets can provide quite a challenge, and because we live in the world, ego often asserts itself.
One of the things I appreciate most about Judd is that he has been able to have a foot on each side of this divide. He understands well the judicious assertion of his musical education. He doesn’t hit you over the head with a “Hey, look what I can do” attitude that demands that you also have years of study to be able to play along or to even listen to what’s happening. He remains accessible. This not only works well for him with performance, but also with his students. For example, the aspiring Nordic-metal-guitar-god may wish to know every picking pattern to apply to each musical mode, but for the person who wants to be in a bluegrass jam this would be overkill.
The ability to apply different skill sets appropriately is what has enabled Judd to sit in with the likes of Teatro Zinzanni, and at the Gypsy Rose Lee Centennial Celebration at the Triple Door, while at the same time playing in local club bands like The Elderly and Gold Mountain. Playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety for a MusiCares fundraiser at the Sunset a couple of years ago, and his solo acoustic rendition of Electric Ladyland for a different MusiCares event at the Tractor are perfect examples of his ability to blend his studies with musical street-smarts. I’m not trying to suggest that these couldn’t be done by someone who has not studied at university, or who has not at all been self-taught. What I am trying to say here is that Judd is able to approach the performance of this music from both sides, without leaving some sort of a tell that another could point to and say “Ah Ha! I’m onto you!”
To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember when it was that I was first informed of the entity that is the Judd Wasserman Band. In my imagination I like to think that it was one of the many times that I’ve randomly bumped into Judd walking through Ballard with his daughter Emma, or perhaps with his girlfriend, Miranda. He has told me on several occasions that he is especially excited for this group of three. He has told me that although he is the front-man for the band he feels a little bit bashful for the eponymous nature of the trio’s name. But who wouldn’t want something great named after them? And hopefully after they read this I won’t be needing to write a whole new bio for a newly named entity formerly known as the Judd Wasserman Band.
I finally heard these guys last month at the Seamonster Lounge in Wallingford, and it was incredibly well worth the wait. I can’t say enough nice things about the Seamonster but I’ll save them for another article. I was really happy for Judd, but even happier for myself. There I was, getting to hear someone who I’ve personally gotten to see grow as an artist for a number of years, and he was sounding fantastic! It is such a pleasure when we get to witness a person level-up to a new place. I knew that I could have brought just about anyone with me and there would be something for them to like. Even the most hard-core curmudgeon would have to respect that this band is great at what they do, if not grooved along with a passive smile on his face. Good music is simply that, regardless of it’s style or genre, and this was good music.
The one thing I was at a loss for was how I would describe what I was experiencing. So I asked Judd how he would describe it. I would have used descriptive words like happy and thoughtful, or, the musical equivalent of green tea. Judd told me that they were aiming for the crisp rock of Deep Purple crossed with the soulfulness and groove of Otis Redding, saying, “The more I think I can have it all, the happier I am”.
I’m not going to promise you that you’re going to have the peak musical experience of 2013, but you just might. If you make your way to the Seamonster Lounge the night of Wednesday, January 30th you are very likely to experience something fulfilling. If you go out often to listen to music, then you’ll recognize that the Judd Wasserman Band is in an upper tier act in the local music scene, and if you don’t go out very often this is a great opportunity to. There’s no cover, although the band is happy to accept tips. If you sit in the front you don’t need earplugs and can have a great conversation, good food and drinks. You’ll probably also see me there bobbing my head up and down with a smile on my face.