A quick glimpse of the Sam Boshnack Quintet might reveal a typical jazz band complete with trumpet, clarinet, piano, drums and bass. But the band incorporates more than just traditional jazz music: They also string together influences from around the world, anything from salsa to Balkan music, into the pieces they play.
“You might listen to (our music) and jazz might not be the first thing you think of,” said Samantha Boshnack, trumpeter and founder of the group.
Embarking on its first tour as a group this week, the Sam Boshnack Quintet will take its music outside of its Seattle hometown for the first time to perform its latest album, “Exploding Syndrome.” The band will make its Los Angeles debut on Thursday as part of the ninth annual JazzPOP summer concert series hosted by the Hammer Museum, which aims to showcase West Coast-based jazz bands.
Lisa Mezzacappa, the organizer of JazzPOP, said she started the series nine years ago wanting to bring jazz music to the Hammer Museum. As a San Francisco native and member of the jazz community, Mezzacappa said she hopes to challenge the belief that the most noteworthy jazz bands only come from the East Coast.
“The world looks to New York as one of the centers for innovative jazz in the country,” Mezzacappa said. “But there’s so much going on in the West Coast that I think people don’t know about. (I want) the series to help make a lot of this fantastic music visible.”
Mezzacappa met Boshnack at a music composition workshop at UCLA in 2012. After hearing her music at the workshop, Mezzacappa said she kept an eye on Boshnack’s musical activities, including her group, the Sam Boshnack Quintet.
In December 2011, Boshnack formed her quintet in Seattle after premiering a 14-member chamber orchestra the previous September. Boshnack said she felt inspired to form a smaller ensemble that she could manage more easily and write more music for. After recruiting musicians she knew in Seattle, her new band premiered at the grand opening of The Royal Room, a music club in the city.
As the primary music writer for the band, Boshnack said she strives to bring out the strengths of each member and cater to his or her musicality. Within Boshnack’s pieces, each member performs his or her own solo improvisation. Boshnack said listeners may hear, for example, that some members are more deeply rooted in the jazz tradition than others.
“Every musician in the band has a very distinctive improvisational voice,” Boshnack said. “But I think we try to take it out to different places and have fun with soloing.”
At its JazzPOP show at the Hammer Museum, the band will present music from “Exploding Syndrome.” Three tracks from the album, “Dormant,” “Exploding Syndrome” and “Ashcloud,” were inspired by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Boshnack said she was inspired to write them after visiting Mt. St. Helens and witnessing the site of the eruption in 2011.
The quintet will also perform Boshnack’s “Nellie Bly Project,” a compilation of pieces influenced by the life and career of 19th-century journalist and feminist Nellie Bly. The project, made possible by a grant from cultural services agency 4Culture, includes the quintet’s first music with vocal performances, as Boshnack and clarinet player Beth Fleenor sing quotes by Bly.
After its stop in Los Angeles, the band will make its way back up north to play shows in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and Portland to complete the tour.
Fleenor said although she thinks the band has found its musical voice after forming more than two years ago, she expects its music will unveil something new at every performance in the tour.
“Playing the material every night is going to take (the music) to a new height,” Fleenor said. “It starts to show you something else that hasn’t been revealed yet.”