(From The Tentacle News)
Venue Sought for Llahngaelhyn Reunion
At a time when Seattle has emerged as one of the hot spots for avant-garde music in the U.S., few are aware that the crucible of the local out-music scene was the fondly remembered 1960s coffeehouse The Llahngaelhyn, on the site of the present-day Romio's Pizza near the University Bridge.

Hosted by pianist/bassist Jerry Heldman, the Llahngaelhyn's regular free-jazz/improv sessions were a proving ground for several Northwest players who went on to be major figures in the international modern-jazz firmament, including guitarists Larry Coryell and Ralph Towner, bassists David Friesen and Gary Peacock, wind players Carlos Ward, Walter Zuber Armstrong, and Joe Brazil (of John Coltrane Live in Seattle fame), and many others. As described by Seattle jazz scribe Paul de Barros in his excellent book Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle (Sasquatch Books), "The Llanghaelhyn scene is a kind of missing link in Seattle jazz history. For while it was a hotbed of avant-gardism and free jazz, the music played there also remained grounded in blues, bebop, and swing tradition." More than 30 years later, Heldman is busy organizing a Llangaelhyn reunion, tentatively scheduled for September, and hopes to bring back many cafe regulars for the event. Heldman is currently seeking a suitably relaxed venue, preferably a loft space, for a two- to three-day reunion. Tentacle readers with venue suggestions for this worthy event are encouraged to contact Eric Apoe at (206) 633-0670.

Seattle Times
Arts & Entertainment : Friday, August 18, 2000

Jazz Etc. / Paul de Barros
Jazz wizard conjures a reunion

Once upon a time, in the Emerald City, in a castle with a fairy-tale turret south of the University Bridge, there lived a wizard.

This wizard never slept, and played extraordinary jazz bass and piano, from dusk till dawn. Every night, his friends - many of whom would later become famous musicians - came to play with him.

This wizard was a strange, but gentle fellow. Some nights, he wore a helmet made of tinfoil, "to ward off evil vibrations." But everyone who came to the wizard's castle said it was a wonderful, magical place.

As old-timers on the Seattle jazz scene know, the wizard is Jerry Heldman and his castle was the fabled, underground club the Llahngaelhyn. Now a Romio's Pizza, the Llahngaelhyn was a coffeehouse that for three storied years (1965-68) nurtured an underground, bohemian scene that featured traditional and experimental jazz, rock and folk music in a mix that still survives today. The late beat poet Jesse Bernstein also used to hold court there.

On Sunday and Monday, from 5 p.m. till midnight (both days), Heldman is throwing a Llahngaelhyn reunion at On the Boards on Lower Queen Anne. The event is free, including food.

It should be quite a bash. Musicians on hand probably will include bassist David Friesen, trumpeters Jay Thomas, Floyd Standifer and Dave Nelson, Hammond B-3 ace Mike Mandel (of Larry Coryell's Eleventh House), drummers Jon Keliehor (The Daily Flash), Dean Hodges and Phil Snyder, singer/songwriters Steve Lalor and Eric Apoe, pianists Bob Nixon and Butch Nordahl, vocalists Woody Woodhouse and Heather Hammond, and many more.

"Heather Hammond kind of shanghaied me into doing this," explained Heldman, who has lived in Yacolt, Clark County, since the early '70s, where he plays music only as a hobby. "As soon as I started talking to people I was so enthused, I said, `You're right, we gotta do it.' "

Heldman, 63, was born in Fargo, N.D., but grew up in Seattle, attending West Seattle High School. A natural, he taught himself to play bass, piano and drums. After a stint in the Air Force (1955-59), he started working at another vintage Seattle club, Pete's Poop Deck, with drummer Vernon Brown. During the World's Fair, he played rock 'n' roll drums six nights a week at the Roll Inn Tavern.

"Larry Coryell had a jam session going every Sunday afternoon at a coffeehouse in the U District called the Queequeg," recalls Heldman. "Shortly after that, Larry decided he was going back to New York, so I took over the session."

From the U District, Heldman moved into an apartment in the turreted building on Eastlake, opening the Llahngaelhyn below.

The made-up name sounded deep, but in fact it meant nothing. What went on inside, however, did. The now legendary jam sessions, with Heldman playing bass in a free, guitarlike style inspired by the great Scott LaFaro, sometimes went on for 15 hours and served as a safe, open-minded training ground for young musicians. Saxophonist Carlos Ward, later with Abdullah Ibrahim, was a regular. So were guitarist Ralph Towner, trumpeter Ron Soderstrom and reed man Walter Zuber Armstrong. One week, McCoy Tyner sat in three times. Chick Corea came by as well.

The place itself could be a bit bizarre. Heldman had a tendency toward paranoia, and for a while hung tinfoil to deflect alien "rays."

Some of his fears were justified. The Vietnam War was on, and anything alternative was suspect.

"We had a lot of trouble with cops," says Heldman, who adds that he did his best to keep drugs out of the club.

But most memories of the place are warm and nostalgic. The reunion, which will feature continuous performances, should be great fun, as well as a living history lesson.
Copyright © 2000 The Seattle Times Company


Let's hear it for a reprise: Llahngaelhyn jams again

Friday, August 18, 2000

It's funny how history helps us appreciate things that we might have overlooked during their time.

This Sunday and Monday, jazz lovers can revisit a lost treasure of Seattle's musical legacy when the Llahngaelhyn Coffeehouse has its reunion at On the Boards.

The jazz institution got its start in 1965, when guitarist Larry Coryell ran a Sunday session at The Queegqueg, a coffeehouse on University Way that offered name folk and blues acts on weekends. With weekdays free, it became the hangout for bassist Jerry Heldman and his band, the Seattle Jazz Quartet (which included Joe Brazil on reeds, Rick Swann, drums, and Dick Dunlap, piano). When another coffeehouse, The Eigerwand, took over the Queequeg space, Heldman and crew found new digs across the University Bridge and christened it The LLahngaelhyn.

WHAT: Jam session
WHEN: Sunday and Monday 5 p.m.
WHERE: On the Boards, 100 W. Roy St.

During the next three years, it became a center of Seattle's developing jazz scene, with after-hours sessions that attracted big name players such as McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea.

Heldman remembers: "After hours, we locked the front door and left the back door open. We played sometimes until 6 or 8 in the morning. One night Roland Kirk came in and set out all his horns on the table. Our piano player didn't show up . . . so Roland got up on the drums, then switched around to the vibes, bass and piano. He played everything except his horns."

Heldman had a regular gig then with reedman Joe Brazil on Saturday afternoons at The Penthouse. This provided a connection between the coffeehouse and the name players coming through town. "I never invited anybody" to the Llahngaelhyn, Heldman says. "They just came down."

As to why the coffeehouse was so popular with musicians, Heldman explains that "the cutting sessions at the Poop Deck and other clubs were kind of mean and competitive. It was more relaxed at the Llahngaelhyn, where people came to play music, not to show off."

With its weird floor paintings and strips of rug glued to the concrete glowing fluorescent under black lights, the Llahngaelhyn attracted a varied and colorful clientele -- activists such as Robbie Stern of the ACLU and Helix editor Paul Dorpat. There were usually a few teen-agers and a couple of college professors. There was folk music and poetry as well, and quite a few folkies stayed around and became jazz fans.

The coffeehouse also attracted artists. Fashion photographer Steve Mards used to bring his models down from Jay Jacobs and photograph them holding instruments. Painters like Joe Bowen, Sandy Gebaroff and Jaime McLean were also a big part of the scene, which even had a resident portrait artist by the name of Christa.

"A lot of these people I haven't been able to track down," Heldman says. "but I hope some of them find out about the reunion and show up."

Among those whose appearances Heldman has confirmed are Mike Mandel, Dick Dunlap, Joe Brazil, Heather Hammond and Larry Graham. Jon Keliehor is coming all the way from his home in Scotland. And David Friesen will be there for a few hours on Monday.

Heldman had discussed a possible reunion with vocalist Hammond for a couple of years, but Hammond started really pushing the idea last spring.

"First I told her I wasn't ready for it," Heldman confesses, "but then I started talking to people. Everyone was very enthused. We want to see if maybe we can play something worth listening to."

Another big push came from the genre-defying singer-songwriter Eric Apoe, with whom Heldman has recently recorded. Apoe believes this event will have significance not just for coffeehouse alumni but for anyone interested in the Seattle's musical legacy.

"These guys are a living history of Seattle jazz," he says. "They played because they were inspired, not motivated by money. They were dedicated to exploring sounds, and that's what jazz is all about. A person could go in there and not only listen to the heavies, but play with them."

The legendary jazz pianist McCoy Tyner says there was no place like the Llahngaelhyn. And he doesn't talk much.

The Tentacle

Catch and Release
Catch & Release is a department of subjective reportage and opinion. Our contributors' views may not reflect those of the Tentacle Collective or its members.

Fabled 1960s coffeehouse the Llahnghaelhyn was the rarest of music venues, a place where free jazz, grassroots folk music, and psychedelic improvisation happily cohabited in a nurturing, listeners' environment, where musical communication and exploration took precedence over profit. In other words, a music venue that one can scarcely imagine surviving in today's bottom line-- obsessed Seattle. Hosted by pianist, bassist, and all-around inspiration Jerry Heldman, the Llahngaelhyn's informal all-night sessions were an incubator for dozens of the Northwest's more thoughtful and innovative players, some of whom went on to become major figures in the international modern-jazz firmament. More than 30 years after the café closed its doors -- marking the resounding end of an era in Seattle jazz -- Heldman convened an assemblage of Llahngaelhyn veterans for two emotional days of reunion concerts at On The Boards last August. Attendee Whitey Black was inspired to pen the following.

Notes on the Llahngaelhyn Reunion
by Whitey Black

There is no place for jazz in Seattle.

You can drop twenty bucks to hear someone who made a name for himself in jazz history swing for an hour on a swank bandstand, but this is not what jazz is all about.

Today doesn't have the time for jazz. Without several hours at a stretch given to the band to play whatever happens to get played, there is not going to be anything worth hearing in these clubs where the house is turned over twice a night and more time is given the waitresses than the band.

Jazz and commerce don't mix. What you need is a place where it doesn't matter how many people show up or how long they stay or how much money they spend. We had a place like this in the sixties by the University Bridge. It was called Llahnghaelhyn.

Last August, bass player and Llahngaelhyn owner Jerry Heldman threw a party for all the musicians and fans who used to patronize the coffeehouse. For two days, Seattle was a place where jazz was played. Although a lot of musicians who have since become successful had played at the club, few of them showed up for the reunion. And the music was all the better for it.

I'm not even going to name anyone who played during those fourteen hours, because in the best of musical times it's not the personality we go to hear but the music that is created out of the nothing that precedes it. Unless you have that nothing, you won't get any music.

Most clubs are so full of their own something that there is no room for anything to be created. There is the box office, the kitchen, the bar, the office where receipts are reconciled and profits and losses calculated. And most of all, there is the fear when the house is empty . . . and the resentment toward the patrons who don't have a lot of money to spend. Who are there only to hear the music.

Jazz is a kid on a fire escape blowing to be free. Once in a while, there is a place where that kid can bring his horn to try to make some music that might be worth listening to. It doesn't have anything to do with selling mixed drinks. It's all about time and having the time. It's all about freedom and having the freedom to find the music that is inside and blowing it out into the air. The Llahngaelhyn reunion was evidence that that time and that freedom is always within our reach.

It took a spirit like Heldman's, free of greed and vanity, to bring jazz back to Seattle. Now let us all return the favor and keep it here.

Whitey Black is an itinerant blues musician.

For more information on the Llahngaelhyn and the reunion, visit www.llahngaelhyn.com.