Brett Campbell

 

MusicWatch Weekly: spring awakenings

As a new season arrives, concerts awaken Oregonians to stories about gender, migration, cross cultural encounters, and more

As 21st century America belatedly recognizes that gender isn’t always a binary phenomenon, artists have increasingly illuminated its fluid, spectral reality, as Oregonians have seen in recent Time Based Art Festival performances, last fall’s Contralto show by Third Angle, and more. Now comes the most produced contemporary opera in North America since its 2014 premiere. As One is inspired by the true story of its scenic designer and co-librettist. Kimberly Reed became the first commercially released transgender filmmaker with her breakthrough film Prodigal Sons, which chronicled her journey from star Montana high school quarterback to award winning film director. In this chamber opera co-created by American composer Laura Kaminsky and renowned co-librettist Mark Campbell, two singers tell the coming of age story of the fictional trans protagonist, Hannah — one playing before her gender transformation, one after. Her journey is depicted against the backdrop of Reed’s sometimes abstract, sometimes realistic imagery, projected on five screens. Stay tuned for my profile of Reed and Matthew Andrews’s ArtsWatch review.
Friday-March 30, Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, Portland.

• More theatrical music comes from Light Opera of Portland (LOoP), whose original, romantic musical We Met in Moscow is based upon events in the lives of Ralph Bunch, a professor emeritus from Portland State University (whose son Kenji is familiar to ArtsWatch readers), and his wife Eleanora Andreevna, head of cybernetics at the Kremlin in the 1990s. Portland composer John Vergin did his own treatment of the story just a few months ago, and now writer/lyricist Dennis Britten and composer Kevin Lay give the musical treatment to this Oregon/Russia love story.
Friday-March 29, Alpenrose Dairy Opera House 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

• Over the past few years, Portland classical music organizations have belatedly begun to redress the inexcusable gender imbalance on their concert programs by finally including a few works by female composers. Now, Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic does something similar for women’s words as well as music. Because Of Her, We Make Songs features musical settings (by female and male composers) of text by women poets from around the world (Emily Dickinson, Emma Lazarus, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Elinor Wylie, Pulitzer Prize-winner Amy Lowell, Gabriela Mistral), including songs by the excellent Northwester composer Alex Shapiro, Ricky Ian Gordon, Florence Price, Grammy and Pulitzer winner Jennifer Higdon, and more. Oregon’s 2019 Poetry Out Loud Champion and Runner-Up, Belise Nishimwe of St. Mary’s Academy and Nicole Coronado of Lake Oswego’s Lakeridge High School, also perform.
Monday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave. Portland.

To celebrate the Portland premiere of ‘As One’, Portland Opera commissioned award-winning photographer Gia Goodrich to create a series of portraits and interviews celebrating 11 transgender individuals in Portland’s community. Portrait from “As I Am” exhibition by Gia Goodrich.

FearNoMusic is also the house band for Cascadia Composers’s 10th anniversary concert. Until the group arrived, ambitious Northwest composers who wanted others to hear their original contemporary classical music usually had to take an academic job and hope for the occasional performance by students, or move to New York or other cultural cosmopoli. Since forming a decade ago, the organization has provided Portland and other Northwest composers showcases for their music (10 concerts this year alone, over 500 new works and 100 world premieres over a decade), networking, mutual support and info, even exchanges with composers in other countries. Now the largest and most active local group in the National Association of Composers/USA, Cascadia has become a vital part of Portland’s creative music scene. This 10th anniversary concert includes music for percussion, voice, strings, flute, and piano written by the organization’s founding composers: David Bernstein, Tomas Svoboda, Greg Steinke, Gary Noland, Jack Gabel, Dan Senn, Bonnie Miksch, and ArtsWatch contributor Jeff Winslow, whose styles range widely across the spectrum of 21st century classical music.
Friday, Lincoln Hall Room 75, Portland State University.

Svoboda and Gabel in 1999. Photo: Françoise Simoneau.

Orchestral Music

Today’s weapon of choice in humanity’s quest to destroy life as we know it is human-caused climate change, perpetrated by the greed of our retro-industrial complex and enabled by their lackeys in Washington and right-wing media. But before that, our preferred means of self-inflicted catastrophe was (and possibly remains) nuclear weapons. The man most responsible for turning them into potential planet killers was the anguished central figure in Pulitzer Prize winning American composer John Adams’s 2005 opera Dr. Atomic: American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who supervised the Manhattan Project that created the nuclear bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Based on Richard Rhodes’ book The Making of the Atomic Bomb, the story of a great scientist’s Faustian bargain seemed a great subject for contemporary opera by one of my favorite composers, but the overlong world premiere I saw in San Francisco failed to ignite onstage, even when choreographer Lucinda Childs sent dancers sprinting across the stage for no apparent reason in a desperate attempt to inject some action to dispel the dramatic inertia. What did work was Adams’s tense, urgent music, inspired by everything from minimalism to the science fiction movie sounds of the 1950s. He later assembled its best music into a symphony, which the Oregon Symphony performed last month, and which the Eugene Symphony plays Thursday, along with Robert Schumann’s Manfred Overture and another Romantic classic, Brahms’s passionate Violin Concerto, starring rising prodigy Julian Rhee.
Thursday, Hult Center’s Silva Hall, Eugene.

See and hear “Coraline” Friday with the Oregon Symphony.

• Speaking of the Oregon Symphony, it performs Bruno Coulais’ score to Portland-based Laika Studios’ delightfully dark Coraline, based on the Neil Gaiman story, Friday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert hall, while the film is projected on the giant screen for its tenth anniversary. On Saturday and Sunday, the orchestra then welcomes award winning singers Denzal Sinclaire and Dee Daniels to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of the greatest singers who ever lived (and a sparkling, influential jazz pianist to boot), Nat King Cole, with some hits from his late daughter Natalie too. And the rebranded Newport Symphony Orchestra at the Ocean plays piano concertos by Clara Schumann and Sergei Prokofiev (starring Amy Yang), plus music by the taken-too-soon French composer Lili Boulanger, Claude Debussy (Spring Rounds), and George Gershwin’s ever-jolly An American in Paris Saturday and Sunday at Newport Performing Arts Center.

Chamber Music

Speaking of film music, German late Romantic composer Richard Strauss wrote a whole lot more music than the familiar five-note opener used in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey decades after he died. 45th Parallel Universe’s Helios Camerata plays some of his theater music (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), opera tunes arranged for string sextet (Capriccio) and a rarely heard Double concerto for clarinet and bassoon.
Thursday, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Ave.

Helios Camerata plays Strauss Thursday.

• In 2017, Eugene’s Delgani Quartet played Portland composer eminence Tomas Svoboda’s blistering sixth string quartet, an homage to his idol, Dmitri Shostakovich that left the audience cheering. Ranging from bleak to ominous to tense, it fully captured the Russian composer’s spirit without resorting to mere imitation. An ideal match of magnificent music, appropriate acoustic, and committed performers, it was one of the most powerful chamber music performances I’ve heard in Oregon. They’re playing it again this weekend, along with earlier Czech music by Dvorak (his final quartet), and a dance-inspired composition by Erwin Schulhoff, whose legacy of infusing classical and Czech traditional music with jazz, Dada, and other forward looking influences was cut short when he died in the Holocaust.
Saturday, Christian Science Church, 935 High St SE, Salem, and Sunday, The Old Church Concert Hall, 1422 SW 11th Ave, Portland.

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MusicWatch Weekly: virtuoso visits

Masters of piano, guitar, violin and more lead this week’s Oregon concert highlights

Back when musical minimalism was the young brash upstart, naysayers called the style simplistic, faddish, and worse. “Never last,” many pundits predicted. Wrong. Half a century on, the style echoes not just in the music of its still-vibrant pioneers like Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but also in the music of subsequent generations of composers who credit them as major influences, not to mention film and dance scores, even TV commercials.

I’ve seen a dozen different recent albums of pianists from around the world playing Glass’s solo piano music, and now, Seattle-based pianist Jesse Myers plays his gorgeous etudes for solo piano accompanied by colorful light projections designed for each piece.
Thursday, The Old Church, Portland.

Benjamin Grosvenor performs at Portland Piano International. Photo: operaomnia.co.uk.

• Portland Piano International brings another solo pianist, acclaimed young British virtuoso Benjamin Grosvenor, to play a pair of recitals featuring music by Schumann, Janacek, Prokofiev and Bellini.
Saturday and Sunday afternoon, Lincoln Hall, Portland State University.

• Guitarist David Torn’s name is less well known than his guitar, which has graced albums by David Bowie, Jeff Beck, k.d. lang, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and many more, plus soundtracks (Adaptation, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Friday Night Lights, etc.). He’s also made some vibrant albums on the ECM label, and now has a trio with long-time collaborator and alto sax virtuoso (and Lewis & Clark College alum) Tim Berne and acclaimed percussionist Ches Smith. Sun of Goldfinger’s expansive new album is a wild, dizzying, sometimes overwrought whirlwind of electronic explorations, avant jazz, contemporary classical touches including string quartet, and general uproar. It’s worth seeing them live just to figure out how only three admittedly superb players can make so much music that sounds like nobody else.
Thursday, Holocene, Portland.

• Fortunately for Oregon, though he was born in England, fiddle master Kevin Burke’s appearances here no longer qualify as visits, though his virtuosity has never been in doubt. Burke has lived in Portland for many years and is a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. Neither Irish by birth nor residence, he’s won Ireland’s most prestigious music awards, both in competitions and for his work in some of folk music’s foremost groups, including the Bothy Band, Celtic Fiddle Festival and Patrick Street. He’s an ideal choice for a pre-St. Patrick’s Day concert in Eugene and St. Paddy’s Day itself in Portland.
Thursday, The Shedd, Eugene, and Sunday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland.

Mandelring Quartet performs at Portland State University.

Friends of Chamber Music presents Germany’s much-praised Mandelring Quartet performing quartets by Shostakovich, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Bartók, and Mendelssohn.
Monday and Tuesday, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University.

Accomplished tenor and PSU dean Leroy E. Bynum, Jr. sings spirituals.

• In My Soul is a Witness: Spirit and Spirituality in the Songs of America’s Enslaved, lyric tenor Leroy E. Bynum, Jr and fellow Portland State faculty member pianist Chuck Dillard team up in a free recital that will “explore both the spirit and spirituality of America’s ‘slave songs’ captured in concert arrangement by several of the 20th century’s most celebrated arrangers of spirituals.
Sunday afternoon, Lincoln Recital Hall, PSU.

Orchestral Music

Longtime Portland Baroque Orchestra artistic director Monica Huggett has been a leading force in the Baroque music revival for decades, as virtuoso violinist, bandleader, and teacher both in the US and her native England. Her students are also rising to stardom, and one of them, British and Brazilian violin virtuoso Rodolfo Richter, leads PBO’s The Road to Dresden concerts of North German Baroque music. The program stars two of the three great German Baroque masters: Telemann (his slyly weird violin concerto inspired by croaking frogs) and Handel (one of his Opus 6 concertos, usually rated as behind only Bach’s Brandenburgs and maybe Vivaldi’s Four Seasons among Baroque concerto masterworks). It also includes a splendid sonata by earlier Baroque virtuoso Franz von Biber, who loved to retune fiddles to make strange sounds, and more.
Friday and Saturday, First Baptist Church, Portland, and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College.

Tomas Cotik performs with Portland Columbia Symphony.

Oregon Symphony plays music by Brahms, Turina, and (with help from great Spanish guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas) Albeniz and Welsh composer Stephen Goss, Saturday-Monday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Portland Columbia Symphony plays music by Barber, Britten and Beethoven (his great violin concerto, starring local virtuoso violinist Tomas Cotik) Friday at First United Methodist Church, Portland, and Sunday, Mt. Hood Community College Theater, Gresham.

Beaverton Symphony Orchestra and Oregon Chorale team up in music by Ralph Vaughan Williams Friday at Hillsboro’s Liberty High School and Sunday at Beaverton’s Village Church.

Streaming

Live From Beall Hall: Oregon Wind Ensemble. Tuesday, 7:30 pm

Live From Beall Hall: UO Symphony Orchestra Concert. Wednesday, 7:30 pm

PSU Noon Concerts:  Student Chamber Music. Thursday, 12 pm

Live From Beall Hall: Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Thursday, 7:30 pm

Live From Beall Hall: Chamber Choir And University Singers. Friday, 7:30 pm

Live From Beall Hall: UO String Faculty. Saturday, 7:30 pm

Got more musical recommendations for ArtsWatch readers? Please deposit them in the comments section below.

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MusicWatch Weekly: natural classical

Sounds inspired by nature and spring highlight this week's Oregon music performances

Oregonians live in a nexus between the natural world that drew so many of us here and the human-created environment that nurtures us. That juxtaposition has inspired several of this week’s musical highlights.

Read my ArtsWatch preview of Habitat, Third Angle New Music’s immersive multimedia performance created by Portland composer/sound artists Branic Howard and Loren Chasse,
Thursday and Friday, Studio 2 @ N.E.W. 810 SE Belmont St. Portland.

• Lewis and Clark College faculty chamber ensemble Friends of Rain’s annual new music concert features music that responds to the natural world, written by a cast of top Northwest composers from accomplished veterans like Susan Alexjander to an award winning rising star, Andrea Reinkemeyer.
Friday. Evans Hall, Lewis & Clark College.

• One of the stalwarts of Portland’s classical music scene, Violinist Adam LaMotte is probably most familiar for his sterling work in Portland Baroque Orchestra. He’s launched a new, conductor-less orchestra to explore repertoire for bigger bands than the standard chamber ensembles he also performs with, and that stretches across a much wider time period than PBO — from the 17th to the 21st centuries. Amadeus Chamber Orchestra seeks to “bring new audiences into the realm of classical music via education, outreach, and vibrant live performances, collaborating with other entities to present multifaceted events.”

The added facets this time: interpolated readings by one of Oregon’s greatest nature writers, Kathleen Dean Moore (who has done similar shows with a pianist), and nature photography by Larry Olson. Both complement the nature-inspired musical selections in this “concert devoted to Mother Earth”: two of Vivaldi’s famous seasonal concertos, a flurry of English Baroque master Matthew Locke’s music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, early 20th century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’s famous The Lark Ascending, long a popular evocation of spring’s impending arrival, and even an original composition for piccolo and strings by LaMotte himself.
Friday, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University.

• There’s more English music for chamber orchestra in this Saturday’s Oregon Mozart Players concert. The program includes one of Haydn’s miraculous London symphonies (written for a much bigger orchestra than OMP’s chamber orchestra forces) to a couple of mid-20th century works, Benjamin Britten’s Rossini tribute ​Soirées Musicales and Malcolm Arnold’s ​Serenade for Small Orchestra​, to contemporary composer Jonathan Dove’s ​nifty Mozart tribute Figures in the Garden.​
Saturday, Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon.

• The Lark Ascending reappears, in a much larger flock, when the Oregon Symphony mixes a pair of much-beloved classics with a brand new piece from one of the country’s leading active composers. Oregonians can sympathize with a 19th century German composer’s joy in visiting sunny Italy — Felix Mendelssohn’s ebullient “Italian” Symphony. The big news is the world premiere of leading American composer Christopher Theofanidis’s new concerto Drum Circles, co-commissioned by the Oregon Symphony, which incorporates a percussion quartet as the soloists rather than the usual violinist or pianist. Theofanidis wrote it for an all-star group called the Percussion Collective, who will play it with the orchestra.
Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

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‘Habitat’ preview: capturing a city in sound

Third Angle commissions Portland composers to create an immersive soundscape that reflects urban and natural interactions

How do you evoke a city in music? George Gershwin used jazzy, brash orchestral music to summon 1920s New York’s bustling beauty. On Thursday and Friday, two Portland composer/sound artists will create a very different kind of soundscape to reflect our city’s 21st century collision between urban life and nature. The joint composition Third Angle New Music commissioned for its Habitat performance will conjure an immersive, meditative sound world from our environment itself.

The event is the brainchild of Third Angle New Music artistic director Sarah Tiedemann, who grew up in Hillsboro at the edge of the Portland metropolitan area’s urban growth boundary. “I was used to crossing a street and being on farmland,” she remembers. As the region grew explosively, that imaginary political boundary became “an image in my mind of the way the natural world around us is butting up against the urban world around us. We’re constantly in the presence of both.”

Branic Howard

Branic Howard

Tiedemann decided to commission a performance that would evoke Portland’s quintessential tension in music. She didn’t have to look far to find a composer to capture the area’s urban/natural interface in sound. Portland composer Branic Howard specialized in creating soundscapes. He also happened to be Third Angle’s sound engineer for many concerts. And he has a discerning ear for sounds — and not just what we traditionally think of as music. “Branic and I will be working in the office, and suddenly he’ll point out how the sound of a furnace coming on sounds so interesting,” she says.

For a collaborator, Howard thought of fellow Portland composer Loren Chasse. “He and I are on the same wavelength,” Howard said. For example, “you might spill dishwasher powder and not notice, and the next day you’ll step on it and it makes this certain sound. For Loren and me, that really is where a lot of the interest lies — situational sounds made up of interesting textures that we normally don’t home in on.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: global musical tour

Sounds from Africa, Japan, Ireland and more join jazz and classical music on Oregon stages

If America, or at least its government, seems a little crazy these days, and you can’t afford to skip the country, the week offers several opportunities for virtual world travel through music.

• PDX Jazz Festival’s irresistible double feature The Soul of Africa – Habib Koite + Bassekou Kouyate features two of the planet’s finest musicians from the musical hotbed of Mali. Kouyate has helped revive the centuries-old ngoni lute, the enchanting little plucked precursor to the banjo —adding strings, new approaches to picking, plucking, and note-bending, and incorporating influences from blues, rock, bluegrass, and jazz, perhaps partial compensation for his native Mali basically giving the West the blues (in a good way). He’s played with everyone from fellow griot Toumani Diabate to Taj Mahal to Bonnie Raitt, Bono, Bela Fleck, and Youssou N’Dour.

Habib Koite and Bassekou Kouyate team up at PDX Jazz Festival.

One of Mali’s most renowned musicians and one of the world’s great guitarists, Koite’s bubbling acoustic guitar-driven melodies and socially conscious lyrics won fans among Western pop stars like Raitt and in the 1980s and ‘90s made him one of Africa’s biggest crossover successes in the West. He’s continued to evolve, changing bands, styles and even instruments. But what hasn’t changed is Koite’s focus on contemporary issues (he sings in four languages, including English, about war, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation, but also happier subjects like soccer), melodic hooks, and gentle, pulsating groove.
Wednesday, Revolution Hall, Portland.

•  Lúnasa get us warmed up early for St. Paddy’s Day. The all-star Irish quintet  has reached the highest level of the Celtic music world, selling a quarter million records of vibrant Celtic instrumental folk music over the past two decades, and they keep the tradition current by adding original compositions and non traditional instrumentation (bass and guitar) to the classic mix of flute, whistles, uilleann pipes, and fiddle.

Wednesday, The Shedd, Eugene and Thursday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland

Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs in Eugene .

• The famous voices of South Africa’s multiple Grammy-winning choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo sing Zulu music from across their four-decade career, probably including cuts from their two latest Grammy nominated discs and their renowned collaborations with Paul Simon. Beyond their beautifully blended voices, the group’s shows are graced by their choreographed dance steps, colorful costumes, and enthusiasm for bridging the divide between artists and audiences. Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch story about their last Oregon tour.
Tuesday, Aladdin Theater, Portland, and next Wednesday, The Shedd’s Jaqua Concert Hall, Eugene.

Oregon Koto-Kai’s annual concert is Sunday at Portland State University.

• Led by one of the state’s global music treasures, Mitsuki Dazai, Oregon Koto-Kai annually showcases the performances of other masters of the koto, that most ravishing Japanese zither. This year’s So-Shun Koto Concert theme, “雪⽉月⾵風花”(Setsu Getsu Fu Ka or Snow, Moon, Wind, Flower perfectly describes this Oregon winter and also means the beauty of nature, which is the theme of most of the traditional compositions on the program. The show also features shamisen (three string lute) and ikebana flower arranging.
2 pm Sunday, Lincoln Recital Hall (Room 75), PSU, 1620 SW Park Ave. Portland.

JAZZ

PDX Jazz Festival concludes this week with another brilliant batch of improvisational masters. Read my ArtsWatch previews of Darrell Grant’s double bill with Terence Blanchard (whose E-Collective brings the funk, blues and R&B on their sizzling new album) and Portland Jazz Composers’ Thursday and Sunday From Maxville to Vanport shows.

• Stephan Crump busted out of his sideman role in Vijay Iyer’s acclaimed trio with his own, very different trio: his own acoustic bass, acoustic guitar and electric guitars (Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox). Rosetta Trio’s 2005 debut earned ecstatic reviews, and although Crump has gone on to lead other bands, he keeps returning to Rosetta, including their brand new album Outliers. It’s easy to hear why: the unusual but versatile instrumentation allows intricate interplay, unweighted by drums or piano. At times floaty, at times funky, it’s a string band for the 21st century.
Friday. Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave. Portland.

• Don’t wait for the inevitable posthumous tribute when you can still hear the real thing. Legendary bassist Stanley Clarke returns to the festival, this time bringing one of the music’s rising stars, LA keyboardist Cameron Graves (who has his own PDX Jazz Festival showcase), plus drummer Shariq Tucker. Best known for his contributions to ‘70s fusion pioneers Return to Forever, Clarke has ranged all over the field in various other projects, including funk, post-bop and more. His latest album includes everything from beatboxing to Bach. With youngsters Graves and Tucker aboard, expect even more contemporary sounds along with jazz-rock classics.
Friday, The Shedd, Eugene, and Sunday, Revolution Hall, Portland.

Bass boss Stanley Clarke plays Eugene and Portland.

The festival also continues its tribute trail with a quartet of contemporary saxophonists in the band Wide Angles, plus brass and strings celebrating the great Michael Brecker Saturday, a Grover Washington Jr. tribute led by Portland’s Eldon “T” Jones Friday, Toots Thielemans and Hank Mobley tributes Sunday, a couple of Blue Note label celebrations and much more, including some of our finest Oregon jazz artists. Check the whole wonderful lineup.

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‘From Maxville to Vanport’: redressing erasure through music

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble project revives the stories of Oregon towns where African Americans created community in an otherwise unfriendly state

The story of African Americans in Oregon has too often been a tale of erasure. From the frequently unacknowledged racist origins of the state’s long legal exclusion of black immigration, to obliteration of neighborhoods and displacement of communities of color, to stifling of voices of protest, stories of African American Oregonians that don’t fit the dominant culture’s whitewashed utopian image have been suppressed, ignored, or forgotten.

As more Oregonians — and Americans in general — belatedly recognize the stubborn persistence of our legacy of racial injustice, calls for change grow louder. Yet it’s hard to move forward without knowing where you’ve been. And Oregon’s African American history contains stories of inspiration as well as intolerance. “Things have changed, but history is not erased by change,” wrote Zadie Smith, “and the examples of the past still hold out new possibilities for all of us.”

PJCE performing with Kalimah Abioto’s short film ‘Water’ in ‘From Maxville to Vanport.’ Photo: Kimmie Fadem.

From Maxville to Vanport resists Oregon’s racist erasure through music, stories and film. Premiered last spring and returning Thursday to Corvallis and Sunday to Portland, Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s production tells the story of two now-vanished Oregon communities with significant African American populations whose legacy still resounds today.

It’s the culmination of an extended collaborative process involving a team of Oregon artists and historical organizations that began with producer Douglas Detrick, executive director of PJCE, and Portland singer Marilyn Keller, a Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Fame member who became what Detrick called “the face and voice of this project.”

“Having performed old time blues and jazz from the ancestors,” as lead singer in Black Swan Classic Jazz Band, Keller insisted that “it had to be a project that spoke directly to my African American heritage.”

Vanished Towns

Built in 1923, Maxville, a railroad logging town near Wallowa that operated until the early 1930s, included 50 or so African Americans and their families. Vanport, hastily created in 1942 to house workers who came to Portland to build warships, numbered at its peak 40,000 inhabitants, making it Oregon’s second largest city, according to the Vanport Mosaic project. (Read Bobby Bermea’s ArtsWatch feature about the flood and the project.) The city was wiped out in the notorious 1948 Memorial Day flood, drowning or displacing thousands of African American residents.

PJCE performing with video of the Vanport flood.  Photo: Kimmie Fadem.

“Both were places of refuge and opportunity to Oregonians of color, immigrants, African Americans especially, all coming to a state where they were not very welcome otherwise,” Detrick said. “We wanted to explore creatively why these places played outsize roles in the state’s African American history.”

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Darrell Grant: jazz master and more

PDX Jazz Festival concert honors renowned Portland jazz pianist / composer who's improvised a creative life in music, teaching and activism

It’s a little ironic that composer and pianist Darrell Grant is receiving the 2019 Portland Jazz Master at this year’s PDX Jazz Festival. For while the jazz he’s played since arriving in 1996 certainly merits the city’s highest jazz honor, Grant has devoted much of his life here to breaking out of the narrow mold of “jazz musician.” Improvising a multifaceted career as teacher, mentor, activist, composer — and yes, jazz artist — Grant may be Portland’s most significant man of music.

“Darrell is a supremely gifted communicator across all media platforms, a gifted composer, educator and improviser, and an accomplished tennis player,” says PDX Jazz’s artistic director, Don Lucoff. “He embodies all that our Jazz Master lineage represents, a relentless searcher and action-oriented role model for our community to absorb and celebrate.”

Darrell Grant. Photo: Thomas Teal Midres.

Grant’s festival concert Thursday (a double bill with the great trumpeter/composer/bandleader/2019 Grammy Award winner Terence Blanchard) allows him to complete a circle by revisiting the music that put him on the jazz map a quarter-century ago.

Black Art

Growing up in Denver in the 1960s and ‘70s, Grant started classical piano lessons at age 7. Even then, he pushed against prescribed constraints, noodling improvised melodies while his elementary school band’s other pianist played the specified chords. Jazz soon called. “I think it was the freedom of it,” he remembers. Enchanted by classic jazz pianists from Nat Cole to Herbie Hancock, he joined a teenage all-star jazz band, won a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, at age 17, then earned a master’s degree at University of Miami.

He headed to New York City and quickly rose in the city’s revitalized, competitive jazz scene, landing plum sideman gigs with famed singer Betty Carter and legendary drummer Tony Williams‘ quintet. In 1989, he recorded his major-label debut with the jazz-fusion group Current Events, which embraced funk, world music and other non-jazz influences.

Then came his big breakthrough: Black Art. Named one of 1994’s top 10 jazz albums by The New York Times, it helped propel the Darrell Grant Quartet (which included fellow future stars drummer Brian Blade, bassist Christian McBride, and trumpeter Wallace Roney) and to jazz stardom while its leader was still in his early 30s. He’d eventually perform with several generations of jazz giants — Roy Haynes, Branford Marsalis, David Sanborn, Jack DeHohnette, Terence Blanchard, Art Farmer, and many more.

But as he’d done with those classical tunes as a child, Grant couldn’t stay on the prescribed path. When an unsolicited job offer to succeed the storied jazz pianist Andrew Hill on Portland State University’s music faculty unexpectedly arrived in 1996, Grant seized it.

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