Arts & Entertainment

Dara Quinn Project hones art of improvisation

Members of The Dara Quinn Project don't do stand-up, but when it comes to their improvisation skills, they've got it down.

The rock-jazz-fusion quartet are named after 36-year-old keyboardist Dara Quinn, a professional musician who had no plans to join a band after moving back from Seattle more than seven years ago.

"Kurt Gustafson, a bass player in town here, brought me out of hiding after I'd been back for a few years," she said. "We started playing together and went through a few different drummers and players in town."

Gustafson and Quinn met drummer Luther Hughes, 50, who moved to the Tri-Cities seven years ago. Originally from West Virginia, Hughes joined the Air Force at the age of 23.

"I grabbed my duffle bag and drum set and ended up in the Philippines, Korea, Okinawa, and came back to Spokane and started gigging," Hughes said. "I classify myself as a 'working musician,' so if you're going to do that then you'd gotta be able to play all styles, whether it's country, rock, or whatever. I'm limited in jazz experience, so this is a new challenge."

The trio was jamming at Bookwalter Winery in Richland last year, when saxophone player Andy Evens, 31, a longtime fan of Dara's from her Seattle days, handed Quinn his business card.

"He said 'Maybe I can play with you sometime,' and I said, 'Can you hang?' " Quinn joked. "He said, 'I think I can hang.' "

After six months of gigs, Gustafson left the band to pursue other interests. Evens turned to friend and former bandmate Justin Chapman, 33, who tried out and made the cut about a month ago.

The group is doing its part to resuscitate the local music scene and are excited to perform at 8 p.m. June 5 at India Palace in Kennewick. Quinn's parents own the Emerald of Siam restaurant in Richland and have recently begun booking artists to perform during dinner hours. The Thai restaurant soon will expand from having music three nights a week to four.

"I've found the Tri-Cities to be really prohibitive as far as the music scene goes," Quinn said. "There's a lot of great talent here but no place to showcase it. There's a lack of venues, and a lack of venues because there's a lack of attendance at venues, and for some reason the populace here does not go out very much or doesn't know where to go out."

Quinn, who writes most of the songs, agreed that "while jazz was a place to start from, we all came from different beginnings to mesh into this idea. Jazz is just one place, but you've got rock and funk, Latin, Afro-Cuban music. World music."

Different types of musical influences is not surprising, considering none of the members grew up playing just one instrument.

Quinn started on the piano at the age of 6, but also played the clarinet and steel drums. Hughes' family played at church three nights a week and grew up in a household full of various instruments. Evens dabbles in bass, keyboards, guitar and drums. Chapman, who grew up in Orlando, Fla., originally played the saxophone, then switched to the bass in high school.

The group is at work on an album and other shows lined up include July 4 at the River of Fire Festival in Kennewick and July 24 at the Richland Farmers Market.

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*Bethany Lee: 582-1465;