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Oregon music giants Tomas Svoboda, David Ornette Cherry die

Jazz and world music composer Cherry and contemporary classical composer Svoboda left their marks in Portland and around the world.


Two leading longtime Oregon musical figures – the contemporary classical composer and pianist Tomas Svoboda, and the jazz and world music composer and pianist David Ornette Cherry – have died. Cherry, 64, died in London on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, after an asthma attack. Svoboda, 82, died in Portland on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, ten years after suffering a major stroke that had cut his prolific composing career short.

Svoboda, born in Paris to Czech parents and raised in Prague, was a musical prodigy. His Symphony No. 1, “Of Nature,” composed when he was just 16, caused a sensation when it was premiered. He left his then-Communist homeland with his family when he was 24, coming to the United States and eventually settling in Portland, which proved a fertile home for music-making. His music has been heard around the world, performed by many leading symphonic orchestras and ensembles. Among his many compositions are six symphonies, seven concerti, and twelve string quartets. A recording of his Marimba Concerto featuring Niel DePonte as soloist with the Oregon Symphony was nominated for a 2003 Grammy Award.

ArtsWatch will publish a more complete appreciation of Svoboda and his music, by Brett Campbell, later this week.

David Ornette Cherry was born in Watts, Los Angeles, but had lived in Portland for many years, composing and performing in Oregon and often around the world. He was the son of the great jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, and was given his middle name in honor of the legendary jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, with whom Don Cherry was recording the album Somethin Else the year David was born. David Cherry grew up surrounded by the contemporary jazz sounds that filled his family’s Los Angeles home, and began performing with his father at 16.

He had been in London when he died, to take part in a celebration of his father’s music at a jazz festival. He had been scheduled to take part in Don Cherry tribute concerts in Zurich, Switzerland, on Nov. 22 and in Cologne, Germany, on Nov. 27.

David Cherry kept a solid grounding in progressive jazz but also expanded his influences to include the wealth of world music and even ambient sound. “My music career and education have thrust me into a variety of musical expressions that I call my ‘mosaic of sound’,” he wrote. “I have been influenced by music of the world – the music of the spirit created from a powerful tapestry of rhythms and sensual melodies. Yet I am also influenced by the infusion of modern technology into that sound – I am a mix of world and jazz idioms.”

Cherry was a frequent and creative collaborator with other artists, working sometimes with choreographers and playwrights. Among his Oregon collaborators were the late singer Lyndee Mah and the writer Susan Banyas, for whom he composed the score for the stage version of her book The Hillsboro Story, based on a landmark school desegregation case in her hometown of Hillsboro, Ohio.


Portland Playhouse A Christmas Carol Portland Oregon

Through it all, he kept extending the breadth and influences of his music, to remarkable effect.

Organic Nation Listening Club (The Continual) sounds like transmissions from another dimension, with its leader at the center of the glorious fray,” Brad Cohan wrote in a December 2021 review for Jazz Times of Cherry’s latest album. “Credited with vocals, soundscapes, douss’n gouni, and ‘percussions,’ and bolstered by a 13-piece ensemble that includes his nieces Tyson McVey and Naima Karlsson, Cherry is not only fearless but also wondrously versatile.”

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."


6 Responses

  1. Thank you Bob, for this tribute…. two big losses. .. David Cherry, such a great artist and beautiful man. and such a soulful collaborative work he did with Susan Banyas in “Hillsboro Story.” Son of Watts! Rest in peace, dear David. Your music endures.

  2. Got to work with him on “The Little Poet,” as well as some other recordings. Such a smooth, sweet, shining man. Just glad he had the performance of his life Sunday night before he left surrounded by his family.

  3. I played with David in college marching band and some gigs in California. Always a pleasure to be around. Gonna miss our talks. Prayers to the Fam.

  4. Thank You for this HEARTFELT Piece on My Musical Mosaic Friend, David Ornette Cherry ?…We just finished a recording, Create In Me on his current Gem, Ear Between The Lines…I Will Miss His Precious Spirit With All of My Broken Heart..?

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