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Chuck Easton's guitar matches the red lights shining toward the stage at Cellar Door in Port Townsend. Every seat is filled in the underground club as he plays a jazz tune he wrote.
He often plays here on Thursday nights, as it's one of the only places to perform jazz music in the area.
Easton has lived on the Olympic Peninsula since 1980, after growing up in Mount Vernon. His music career began as a child.
“Both my parents were music teachers, so I was doomed from the beginning,” Easton said.
He started playing violin in sixth grade, and then the bass guitar in high school.
In 1965, Easton began college at the University of Washington in Seattle, but ended up dropping out. Soon after, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Korea.
“That’s part of the reason I went to music school,” Easton said. “I spent six months driving an ambulance and six months playing bass guitar in a band, and the guy who ran the band had been to Berklee; that's the school in Boston.”
When Easton returned to the U.S., he was stationed in Boston. He looked into classes at the Berklee College of Music, but returned to Seattle.
Since Easton was in the Army, he received money for school through the GI Bill. The funds expire after a certain amount of time, and Easton’s was running out. He returned to Boston, enrolling at Berklee to study guitar.
After graduating, Easton moved to the Quilcene woods after a friend offered free rent.
“They're not smart moves,” Easton said. “I didn't really make any career moves; I should have. At that point I should have moved to New York or San Francisco or LA.”
In 1992, he moved south of Chimacum, where he still lives.
He's been playing music around the peninsula for almost four decades. He performs primarily in Port Townsend, usually in clubs or bars like Cellar Door, the Pourhouse and the Port Townsend Brewing Co.
“The disadvantage is that I don't get to play enough music; there's not as many people around here,” Easton said. “But on the other hand, here we are in a beautiful spot.”
Easton has begun making a profit from his music over the past two or three years, he said.
Jazz musicians make their living by going on tour, Easton said, something he's done only once.
Not by choice, however.
“Nobody ever called me for a gig; I would if somebody called me,” Easton said. “I'd love to tour three months a year; that’d be great.”
Easton can play pretty much any genre except bluegrass, but he's mostly known as a jazz guy, he said.
As for the instruments he plays, it's easier to ask which ones he doesn’t play: the accordion, the drums and the cello.
Easton's main focus now is the guitar, he said. Although he's been playing since 1970, he's still practicing.
“Is that 45 years? Holy cow, I should be better now after all that time,” Easton said.
Other instruments have distracted him from concentrating on guitar, Easton said. He likes the variety and challenges of playing multiple instruments.
When he's not performing on the weekends, Easton teaches music four days a week. He goes to Bainbridge Island once a week and teaches jazz piano. Since 1995, he also has taught at Crossroads Music in Port Townsend for three days a week.
“I’ll teach more complicated guitar stuff or little kids how to play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ and that’s fun, too,” Easton said. “It’s fun to see people learn.”
Easton thinks he’ll stay on the peninsula forever, he said.
He performs with about a half dozen people from around the area, and makes sure to play with the best, he said.
“There's two things that are fun about playing music: One, it's just fun,” Easton said. “The other thing is that if there's people listening to it, that enhances it and makes it even better.”