Portland State launches a new jazz series

The mostly free series of concerts features students, faculty and visiting jazz artists

George Colligan leads the PSU jazz program, which has just started a new jazz series in Portland.

George Colligan leads the PSU jazz program, which has just started a new jazz series in Portland.

The newly announced  Portland State Jazz Series is a natural development of both the growth of the university’s jazz program and the relative dearth of performing opportunities in town. The jazz program is simply generating too much activity among its students and faculty for the city’s jazz clubs to keep up. So, beginning at 5 pm Tuesday, April 1, with Guitar Heroes—featuring an all-PSU ensemble of guitarists Austin Christ and Mark Chrisman, James Ford on piano, Corey Heppner on bass, and Grant Pierce on drums—PSU will start producing its own jazz series, most of it free and most of it in Lincoln Hall, Room 47.

The first one is a student band (which will perform original compositions and standards, including Miles Davis’s modal masterpiece “Nardis”),  but the  following Tuesday, visiting New York sax player Donny McCaslin, nominated for a “Best Jazz Instrumental Solo” Grammy in 2004, will hold a master class and perform with PSU students.

By my count, there are 10 events in April alone, including a CD release concert for part time faculty pianist Kerry Politzer’s Below the Surfaceat 7 pm April 4, Portland Piano Company, Southwest 711 SW 14th Avenue, and a concert by an ensemble of PSU faculty pianist George Colligan, NY guitarist Tom Guarna, bassist Damian Erskine, and Reinhard Melz at 5 pm April 21 at the Mission Theater. Both of those are $10, but, yes, most of the shows are free.

A couple of thoughts. First, take a look at the PSU faculty list for the music department, not just jazz, and you’ll see that a LOT of the musicians and composers are central to the city’s growing new music scene. The list is impressive. Second, as I looked over that list, which is alphabetical and NOT divided by specialty, it occurred to me how important the meshing of musical forms and instrumentation has been to how that scene has developed. In some ways, “Portland music” is distinguished and united by the way its creators incorporate elements of new classical, jazz and rock/pop into their music, and that gives it an “odd” sound that, for example, most American contemporary pop or indie music doesn’t have. That’s the start of another story altogether, and I’ll leave it at that.

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