“Sting is one of the seminal artists of my generation,” says Portland pianist/composer Darrell Grant. As the leader of The Police (1977-1984) and as a solo artist, the former Gordon Sumner sold more than 100 million records, and his eclectic genre-crossing solo career exerted a huge influence on both Grant and fellow Portland singer and Sting-lover Marilyn Keller when each was shaping a musical career in the ‘80s.
“Sting’s music provides some beautiful vehicles for us jazz musicians to do what we do best,” Grant says, “weave harmony, melody, virtuosity, spontaneity, feeling and groove into stories about who we are and what our lives are like now.” Maybe the jazz connection shouldn’t be surprising; Sting began his music career playing jazz in the early 1970s in northern England.
Yet Grant, 53, says he has been surprised that so few of his music students at Portland State University, where he teaches music, have even heard of the British rocker. “It’s hard to believe that an artist so iconic in one generation could be so unfamiliar in the next,” he says. So Grant and Keller put together Thursday night’s concert, Sting: The Jazz Remix at Portland’s Alberta Abbey, in honor of his rock roots.
Expect to hear “Fragile,” “We’ll Be Together,” “Fields of Gold,” “Every Breath You Take,” “King of Pain” and “Englishman in New York.” Fifteen pieces are on the set list. Grant arranged most, though Portland pianist Ezra Weiss re-imagined “Fields of Gold.”
Those of us who tuned into music in previous decades will have a chance to relish the work of a vibrant oldie-goldie in a new style. Grant will play with Keller as well as his Naught 4 Us band that includes new talent and old, including saxophonist John Nastos, high school sax-player Quin McIntire, PSU trumpeter Noah Simpson, vocalist Jimmie Herrod (lead in pianist Weiss’s jazz version of Alice in Wonderland staged in February by Northwest Children’s Theater) and PSU students, vocalist Ashley Leonard and cellist Zach Banks.
Known internationally – he was Betty Carter’s pianist a few decades ago — Grant is a staunch community citizen in Portland’s music and educational worlds. In 2004 he established the Leroy Vinnegar Award ( named for the late Portland jazz bassist who created the “walking bass line,” moving up and down the instrument) to honor Portland’s outstanding jazz musicians. Grant has issued several popular CDs, including his newest, “The Territory,” and the much-lauded 2007 album Truth and Reconciliation.
Grant calls his recasting of the pop master of his youth “somewhat of a homecoming,” but acknowledges that “some people will be hearing this music for the first time.” As with any jazz concert, the magic will emerge from how musicians mix and mash yesterday with today.
Angela Allen lives in Portland and writes about the arts. She is a published poet and photographer and teaches creative writing in the Portland schools. Her web site is angelaallenwrites.com.