Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cjazz Founder Riffs for Her Cause

For Michele Abrams, a little groove and style is just the start. For more than a decade, the seasoned Seattle-based concert producer and entrepreneur has fused the soulful strains of adult jazz with a knack for event-based philanthropy. As founder of Cjazz, a philanthropically-minded music events company, Abrams has created the ideal platform to pair some of the most melodic stars in contemporary music with her own branded events to promote cutting-edge cancer research.

Abrams’ career began in the film and TV industry, but changed trajectory after a move to Seattle, where her passion for music took centerstage. There she moonlighted as the weekend on-air personality for Bellevue-based radio station KWJZ, and soon launched her own contemporary jazz website, Cjazz. As Abrams recalls, “It was the early days of the Internet, probably 1993 when I launched it, and at that time, it was more of a way to pair my passion for music with technology.”

As the website developed, Abrams began to organize and promote small and medium-sized jazz shows throughout the Seattle area. In 2003, she staged the Eastside Jazz Series at a 500-seat performance center in Kirkland Washington, where the performances featured two of Michele’s longtime favorites: saxophonists Euge Groove and Eric Marienthal. In 2004, Abrams founded a more permanent home for her preferred sound, creating the Cjazz Lounge, a contemporary jazz supper club located in the Hyatt Regency Bellevue.

Soon after, though, Abrams lost her mother to cancer, following the earlier loss of her father to the disease. As a result, her mind turned to the philanthropic potential of her work. The fit, she says, was an organic one. “I’ve always been very philanthropic. I’ve always volunteered throughout my entire life, and I’ve derived great joy from that. Music being my biggest passion, it was natural for me to utilize that as a way to give back.”

During a vacation to Kauai, Abrams’ relationship with the Hyatt Bellevue connected her to the five-star Grand Hyatt Resort & Spa, where local fundraisers served her with a special request. Recalls Abrams, “They asked if Cjazz would be willing to produce a concert to raise money for women’s’ shelters on the island. It was pretty easy to say, when do you want to get started?”

Abrams volunteered a year of her time. The result was Jazz on the Shores, a two-night luxury event at the Grand Hyatt and the nearby Princeville Resort, featuring such luminaries of contemporary jazz as Groove, keyboardist Greg Karukas and saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa, all to benefit the YWCA of Kauai and their Family Violence Shelter.

Fresh from that success, Abrams’ efforts turned in a more personal direction when she partnered with the world-renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. In 2007 she was invited to join the Center’s Holiday Gala Board of Directors, bringing her expertise and creativity to the event, and helping to procure exciting auction items. For the occasion in 2009, she partnered with popular Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling saxophonist Dave Koz to craft a backstage VIP meet-and-greet package, a hot-ticket auction item that earned a sizzling $7,000 to help fund vital cancer initiatives.

Now Abrams and her team at Cjazz are fast at work on their most ambitious event yet. Partnered with the Oasis Music Awards, scheduled for March 2011 in San Diego, Cjazz will host a large-scale ticketed performance event, In Concert for Cancer. The show will be the first of many, predicts Abrams. “We have very big plans to scale this into a huge annual event.”

With a wealth of experience under her belt, Michele Abrams feels she’s found a winning formula with Cjazz. “I think that there is nothing that inspires people more than music,” she says, “no matter what the genre, whether punk or rock or country. It’s such a wonderful way to lift spirits. My goal is to share the joy of live music performance with others. How do you do better than that? Putting on a knock-your-socks-off concert and taking the proceeds to fund a cause that everybody’s been touched by. To me, that’s joy.”

To learn more about In Concert for Cancer, jump right over here!

And enjoy a tune from Michele's pal and collaborator, Jeff Kashiwa:

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