At the Majestic on Forest Street on a spring night,
jazz flows out of the doorway and vibrates off the
walls. On the stage are a pianist, a trumpet player,
and a drummer. The instruments harmonize, echo,
repeat. Members in the audience range in age, gender, and
background, but they all have the same glowing expression
on their faces. In the very back of the jazz band is a gentleman
wearing a dark suit and a look of pure bliss. He pounds the
skins, creating the beat. Bang. Bang. Bang. The drummer is
none other than Julian MacDonough, one of our area’s most
accomplished jazz drummers. A frequent member of the Mike
Allen Quartet and noted jazz soloist, MacDonough is known
for his smooth balance of precision and improvisation.

MacDonough moved to Bellingham at the age of two and
attended Happy Valley Elementary. His father was a jazz
musician and encouraged him to pursue music. MacDonough
said he always liked drums and in a sense, gravitated toward
the instrument, despite growing up around his father’s piano.

“I’d come home from school and [the piano] would be
gone,” MacDonough said. “The third time he sold it, I was
like ‘screw it, I’m a drummer.’”

Unlike other professional musicians, MacDonough had
no formal education in music. Instead, he learned on the
bandstand with other musicians and in front of audiences, an
experience that is both simultaneously nerve-wracking and
thrilling. “You succeed and fail in front of people.”

During his early 20s, MacDonough relocated to Seattle.
His first gig in Seattle wasn’t welcoming—MacDonough was
confronted by a bassist, whom hedescribed as a “renowned
character” in the Seattle music scene. During their set,
MacDonough was pulled off the stage by the bass player
who critiqued MacDonough. The bassist, then proceeded
to demonstrate his annoyance throughout the performance.
During another occasion, another musician insisted that
MacDonough break his drum set on stage during a gig. “I
also learned that’s not how I wanted to be dealt with. I had
to unlearn some ways of dealing with music and myself.”

MacDonough said musicians deal with each other much
differently now, noting that musicians are no longer working
every night in the same club, with the same kind of aesthetics
or machismo that jazz musicians like Buddy Rich dealt with.
Although it was sometimes a tough time for MacDonough on
stage, MacDonough is still in love with the artistic exposure
music has to offer, “You get on a bandstand and within four
bars you can suss out everyone. You know a lot about the
person right off the bat.”

MacDonough eventually relocated to Bellingham and
became the artistic director of the Whatcom Jazz Music Arts
Center in hopes that the position would keep him at home
more, enabling him to spend more time with his daughter. In
the position, he brought in popular musicians from around
the Pacific Northwest and gave them exposure. He, in turn,
was allowed to play with some of the most talented musicians
in the area. But the position wasn’t feasible. He was forced to
stay on the road to make ends meet, adding stress to both his
musical and personal life.

Now, MacDonough said he plans on traveling during the
summer months with musicians in New York and returning
to teach at WWU in the fall. “All the marbles are up in the air
right now,” Macdonough said. “Looking at all the options are
kind of daunting, but I’m also kind of stoked when thinking
about what I could do if I wanted to.” Whatever he does, he’ll
be doing it with his signature style.

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"MacDonough is known for his smooth balance of precision and improvisation."