Maas Media

How a local filmmaker rediscovered Seattle’s soul.

For Jennifer Maas, 2009 was a pretty good year. As co-producer of Lynn Shelton’s breakout indie hit Humpday, Maas had the good fortune of attending the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. But more important, she put the finishing touches on a film of her own, Wheedle’s Groove, wrapping up five years of documenting Seattle’s forgotten soul scene. As her film makes the rounds of various festivals, SW caught up with Maas to chat about the film and how this project changed her opinion of Kenny G.

SW: What was it about the subject of Wheedle’s Groove that begged you to examine it in-depth?

Maas: Honestly, it was half a sense of injustice and half naivete. When I heard the story, I just thought obviously this needs to be told. Growing up, I equated Seattle with rock. To find out that Seattle had this amazing past and that there seemed to be no official record of it made me feel like I had to do this project.

Wheedle’s Groove is narrated by the great Sir Mix-a-Lot, whom you also interviewed for the film. What made him an ideal candidate for narration?

In our interview, he was able to paint a picture of the Central District neighborhood better than anyone else. We had seen The Heart of the Game, narrated by Ludacris, and Mix-a-Lot seemed like a perfect choice for our film.

In doing this film, you got to interview some incredible people, including Quincy Jones and Philip Woo. But I have to ask: What was it like meeting Kenny G? Are you a fan of his music now?

My relationship to his music really has changed over the course of this project. There really is a direct line from the early-1970s R&B that’s more palatable to our generation to the music that Kenny G makes. A whole bunch of those people who were listening to Sly & the Family Stone in the early ’70s moved on to Quiet Storm in the late ’70s and then started listening to smooth jazz in the early ’80s. It’s hard for us to see that lineage, but it’s definitely there for the people who came up with it. Also, he is a phenomenal player. I heard that his next album might be a return to his roots, which I can’t wait to hear!

Wheedle’s Groove recently won the Audience Award at the Indie Memphis Film Festival. What else is in store for it? Any word on a Seattle premiere?

We are doing our festival year right now, and have a bunch of dates starting to line up. We will be premiering in Seattle sometime in the spring, but we’re playing at a great festival in Portland called Reel Music in January. Now that we’ve finished the film, we still need to raise money to pay for the archival footage and music licensing.

Your film is about Seattle’s soul. But the late Doug Sahm once sang, “You can’t be from Texas if you don’t got a lotta soul.” Since you’re actually from Texas, can you tell me why this is? What’s in the soil down there?

The real question is, what’s in the queso?