jazz

Jimmy Mak’s: Ace of clubs prepares to play a new hand

Friday's Mission Theater concert helps revive the brand of one of Portland's most influential nightspots, due to re-open in the fall.

For many years, J.D. Stubenberg and Lisa Boyle were mainstays of the great Portland music club Jimmy Mak’s, in their own ways as vital to the place as the hotspot’s founder/owner Jimmy Makarounis and the musicians who lit up the stage there. Since the club’s closing at the end of 2017, followed hard upon by the death of Makarounis from laryngeal cancer, they’ve been involved in plans to revive and sustain the Jimmy Mak’s legacy.

So now they’re getting the brand back together.

Tonight’s concert at the Mission Theater — a high-energy double serving of rock-and-soul featuring the Yachtsmen and the Paul Creighton Project, with the Soul Vax horns adding some special sauce all around — comes to you under the Jimmy Mak’s Presents banner, an imprimatur of the discerning yet populist aesthetic that Makarounis and Stubenberg championed over the past couple of decades. The show is a benefit for the Jimmy Mak Musical Inspiration Scholarship at Portland State University, a program launched in 2017.

Portland pop-rock band the Yachtsmen will play at the Mission Theater on Friday to benefit the Jimmy Mak Musical Inspiration Scholarship.

The show also serves as a reminder that the much-loved, much-missed club likely isn’t gone for good. In fact, the investor group Friends of Jimmy Mak’s plans to launch a new location this fall.

“We’ll hopefully start swinging hammers by the end of May, maybe June,” Stubenberg said last week. “So we’re hoping to open in September or October, but we won’t really know until we get into construction.”

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Swinging into Nehalem

Jazz singer Rebecca Kilgore & Her Band bring the Great American Songbook -- and a few holiday tunes -- to the Oregon Coast

She’s been inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, the Jazz Society of Oregon’s Hall of Fame, and honored as a Jazz Legend at the San Diego Jazz Party. She’s played famed American jazz venues from New York to L.A., as well as performing in Holland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Norway – not to mention on jazz cruises around the world.

And now, Rebecca Kilgore is coming to the Oregon Coast. On Saturday, Rebecca Kilgore & Her Band will take the stage at the NCRD Performing Arts Center in Nehalem to present a night of the music that’s earned Kilgore countless accolades, including “one of America’s leading song stylists … of the Great American Songbook.” Her discography numbers more than 50 recordings, her repertoire more than 1,000 songs.

Portland singer Rebecca Kilgore says she loves small venues for the intimacy they create with the audience.

In a phone interview days before her performance, Kilgore and I talked about music, performing and the highlights of her career. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nehalem — I’m guessing this is a relatively small venue for you?

Rebecca Kilgore: Yes, and I love small venues. It’s intimate and you can really create a relationship with the audience. I am not one of those singers that emotes a lot. I really like to just have fun with the music because I love it so and I want to impart that to my audience.

What can audience members who haven’t seen you perform expect?

RK: If they’ve heard of Ella Fitzgerald or Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, or any of the singers of the classic Great American Songbook, that is kind of my wheelhouse. I learned from them. Those are the people I was inspired by. I do a lot of jazz standards. I also tend to sing less-well-known things. That’s good in some ways and bad in some ways. If people are unfamiliar with the genre, they will be really unfamiliar with what I sing. I won’t do a lot, but I will throw in a few holiday songs.

You’ve also done shows performing songs from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland.

RK: Yes, but I don’t imitate them and I don’t dress up like them. I pick things from their repertoire and borrow their arrangements.

Does the size of the audience affect your performance?

RK: I’m planning my program this week. Sometimes when you are in a venue like that, you can tell what people are responding to. If they like a particular type of song, I may change things on the spot.

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Tapping into memory

Portland Tap Company debuts with "The Man Who Forgot"

“Your stories go on, but who are you?” Kelsey Leonard mused as we discussed the history and future of tap dance in a coffee shop last week.

Leonard, who founded the Portland Tap Alliance in 2015 with Pamela Allen and Erin Lee, has herself played a role in the story of tap. The Alliance was designed to promote, preserve, and celebrate tap dance in the Pacific Northwest and globally; since its founding, it has produced an annual three-day festival bringing tappers from around the world to Portland. And now Leonard is serving as artistic director and co-choreographer of the Portland Tap Company, a group of seven tappers from Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C. The brand-new company will make its debut this weekend at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts with a premiere of The Man Who Forgot.

The Portland Tap Company debuts this weekend with “The Man Who Forgot.” Photo by Nicholas Teeuwen

It seemed fitting that Leonard and I were having our conversation in person. Most of tap history lives on through verbal communication in tap classes and festivals across the nation, Leonard explained, adding that it’s normal for tap instructors to emphasize the importance of tap’s influencers by calling on students to speak their names: Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Jimmy Slyde, Chuck Green, Charles “Honi” Coles. The Man Who Forgot explores the power of memory by evoking those who laid the groundwork for tappers and artists alike today.

The title refers to a recording of short-fiction writer Neil Gaiman’s The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury, a 15-minute musing on memory, friendship, and the power of a name that Gaiman gave the Farenheit 451 author for his 91st birthday. The Portland Tap Company program includes excerpts from the recording, integrated into a score created by the Josh Rawlings Trio, in collaboration with Leonard and co-choreographer Jesse Sawyers. The Seattle-based trio, led by Grammy-nominated pianist Josh Rawlings. plays everything from jazz to blues to feel-good pop. Having a score created around the tappers is a luxury, Leonard noted, as is having the group play live at this weekend’s performance.

The Josh Rawlings Trio (left to right: Nate Omdal, Josh Rawlings, Adam Kessler) plays live for the Portland Tap Company’s debut show.

Leonard and I talked about how tap, much like jazz music, has historically been a form of communication in and of itself. Tap, she noted, has black roots dating back to the 1700s, when West African and Irish indentured servants’ cultures mixed in an uprising against plantation owners. The rhythms of Irish dance footwork and West African drumbeats cross-pollinated, and tap took root. Slaves working on plantations began communicating with one another using rhythmic foot patterns.  Nowadays, in jazz jams and tap classes, the back-and-forth musical and rhythmic exchange still hews to that same alternative form of communication. And as with jazz music, tap’s continuity depends on well-versed artists whose improvisation draws from the masters who created the art form. The Portland Tap Company created The Man Who Forgot with tap’s forebears in mind.

The company’s performers include Leonard and Sawyers themselves, along with Portland’s own Bethany Reisberg, MaKaeyla Pool, and Sarah Brahim, whose work you may have seen in New Expressive Work’s latest residency cycle. Pamela Allen, Funmi Soflola, and Sawyers are based in Seattle, Washington, and Julianna Oke is from Vancouver, B.C.

The Portland Tap Company will trip down memory lane this weekend, using two of America’s strongest cultural staples–tap dance and jazz music–to explore our capacity to remember the past and carry information forward. And, too, the company will capture the fleeting yet magnificent nature of being human.