The Problem band offers jazz solutions in Bellingham
Nestled just a few miles from the U.S.-Canada border, Bellingham, is a city often overlooked by the metropolitan areas of western Washington. But a young band called The Problem is working to bring more attention to this arts-loving community.
The Problem's co-founders Samuel Harris (trombone) and Frank Youngblood (saxophone) spoke with KNKX recently about their new group and their ambitious future plans.
Youngblood, the oldest member of the band at 24, studied jazz at Sehome High in Bellingham and attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston before working his way back to the Pacific Northwest.
Harris, raised in Texas playing polka music, is finishing a degree in Music Performance at Western Washington University. He put a band together recently to record music he'd written as an audition for the Kennedy Center's Betty Carter Jazz Residency. The musicians he hired, largely fellow WWU students, would eventually become The Problem.
Youngblood and Harris previously worked together in the funk band North Sound Soul, but often found themselves talking after rehearsals about leaving the band to "play jazz, go off and do our own thing, so we kind of mutinied," Youngblood explained.
The current lineup for The Problem finds Youngblood and Harris joined by Ben Allwright on trumpet and keyboards, with Mckenzie Bandy, Alejandro Albright-Reveles and Eli Porter at the piano, bass and drums. Singer and trumpet player Sage Eisenhour often joins in. The Problem is happy to expand or contract the ensemble "depending on the gig we're playing," Harris said.
Formed at the beginning of this year, The Problem's early goal was to get as many gigs as they could. That's meant working out the band's sound on jazz and pop standards with what Harris calls a "young Bellingham twist."
The Problem musicians have been writing original tunes and hope to record eventually, but Youngblood said his bandmates are still getting used to playing with each other. He said including original songs is the next natural step, learning how they should sound before they commit to a recording studio.
"We want to be 'who we are' as a band before we hit that recording studio, come out of the gate swingin' with our own unique sound," Youngblood said. "It's coming soon."
The Problem anticipates travelling to play for Seattle audiences eventually but have been busy creating their own scene in Bellingham. "I call Bellingham the 'training ground,'" Harris said. "A perfect place for young musicians looking for an opportunity. It's small enough to where it's easy to make connections, and big enough that there's always going to be that next opportunity."
They've hustled around town performing at venues like Juxt Taphouse and Structures Brewing. You can see The Problem live at Boundary Bay Brewery Friday, August 18 or catch the band's weekly Saturday gig at Poirier's On the River in downtown Mt. Vernon.
They also called the The Blue Room an "invaluable resource to The Problem and so many other bands." Bellingham, they say, is the place to be right now. "We're an hour and a half from Seattle, we'd love to see more people come up and check it out," Harris said.
As to The Problem's clever band name, Harris said it makes an important point. The group opens performances announcing: "We are The Problem and thank you for being part of the solution." The audience, they understand, is a crucial part of building this community.
With bands like The Problem lighting up the Whatcom County jazz scene, it's starting to seem well worth the drive up Interstate 5.
The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND