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Giving Spotlight: Raynier Institute & Foundation

Submitted by Joanne De Pue on November 13, 2020 - 2:46pm
James Widmer Ray (Photo: Courtesy the Raynier Foundation & Institute)
James Widmer Ray (Photo: Courtesy the The Raynier Institute & Foundation)

By Emma Silverstein
School of Music Constituency Relations Officer

James Widener Ray always had a particular fondness for the arts; as a teen, Ray became invested in photography, visual arts, and music. Even more than creating art, Ray was passionate about providing other artists the opportunity to freely create their own works. It wasn’t until his mother passed away in the 1980s that Ray was able to realize his life-long dream of owning an art gallery and supporting local artists by giving them a space to share their work with the public. Only a couple years after its opening, the gallery transitioned into the Raynier Institute & Foundation.

The Raynier Institute & Foundation, founded by Ray, was created as a grantmaking organization, designed to provide funding to projects that aligned with Ray’s passions for the arts (particularly jazz), education, and the environment. Though Ray died suddenly in October 2005, the Raynier Institute & Foundation continues his legacy by striving to fund “projects and programs of high merit for the betterment of humanity.”

Earlier this year, the UW School of Music was the fortunate recipient of a Raynier grant to further support the UW Jazz Studies Program. The grant, in keeping with Ray’s vision, funds a three-year artist-in-residence in bass within the program, a position currently held by renowned musician and sound engineer Steve Rodby.  

“Steve's international acclaim and 15 Grammy awards reflect a life’s worth of experience and expertise that is distilled to our students,” says Cuong Vu, chair of the Jazz Studies Program. “We are thrilled to have him here working with our students. 

"In addition to supporting Rodby’s compelling mentorship of our students,” Vu continues, “the Raynier Foundation has also provided support for the annual UW School of Music’s IMPFest, a nurturing platform that puts our students into an intensive work atmosphere with legendary jazz artists as they prepare for the festival’s highlight concerts with the artists.”

The impact of such a grant is huge for the Improvised Music Project (IMP), a student-led improvised music group created in conjunction with the School of Music Jazz Studies Program. The group’s goal, much like that of James Ray himself, is to help shape local music culture here in Seattle by bringing guest artists, students, and faculty together each spring for the Improvised Music Project Festival (IMPFest). Since its inception in 2008, IMPFest has provided UW music students opportunities to continue spreading the works of local musicians within the genre of improvised music. The grant from the Raynier Foundation, which provides critical funding for guest artist fees and administrative costs, helps to advance these important opportunities for UW students and the greater community.

 “The generous and timely gift from the Raynier Foundation will enable the Jazz Studies Program to sustain its foundation and excellence for the next three years,” Vu says, while allowing the School of Music to provide opportunities for local artists and musicians to share their craft publicly, just as James Ray had intended.

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