nicole glover

Montavilla Jazz Festival:  Journeys in space and time

Annual jazz celebration culminates in a dazzling musical voyage that transcended today's terrestrial troubles

By DAVID MACLAINE

In 1959 a student at the University of Oregon started singing jazz gigs with other music students, including future master Ralph Towner and Glenn Moore. A year later she moved to San Francisco, married a bandleader named Sonny King and took his last name. Soon she was touring, and for a couple of years you could hear her inventive jazz stylings in the Playboy clubs. (Where you could also take in Nat King Cole and Count Basie). But by 1970 the writing was on the wall: the musical world was not exactly crying out for the next great scat singer. So Nancy King settled down in Eugene to raise her three sons, gigging on weekends in Portland’s Benson Hotel. In 1976 she was featured on First Date, an album by jazz saxophonist Steve Wolfe. But that was it until the 1990s. By then the children were grown, and the fifty-year old singer was ready to embark on the second stage of her career.

Nancy King performed at the 2018 Montavilla Jazz Festival. Photo: Kathryn Elsesser

It wasn’t exactly a belated rocketship ride to the top, but within the niche where the jazz survivors and the new generation carrying on the traditions kept alive their art she began to build a reputation. By 1999 King had reached the point where a reviewer of her album Moon Ray could lead off his rave account with the suggestion that “With the passing of Betty Carter, a case can be made that the mantle as preeminent bop and post-bop vocalist should be draped across the shoulders of Portland, Oregon denizen Nancy King.” In 2007 Ben Ratliff noted in the New York Times that “Musicians eventually spread the word eastward, but it took a long time before anything happened beyond high-quality admiration.” But that had changed at last, he averred: “This is Ms. King’s time; jazz singers in general have become very interested in her.”

Jazz fans are interested too, so much so that I almost missed my chance to hear King, who was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in 2007, sing on the final night of the the 2018 Montavilla Jazz Festival. I’m glad I didn’t. Her performance was one of those mind-altering excursions into another dimension that temporarily squelched my ability to translate an experience into words, a perfect embodiment of why some of us simply cannot live without the arts. Her set, which for the moment we will file under the cliche “out of this world,” was the culmination of a series of performances I saw during the festival at Portland Metro Arts: George Colligan and his keyboard, guitar and drum combo Other Barry; James Miley’s Watershed Suite; and the return to Portland of native daughter Nicole Glover, with the tenor saxophonist joined by Colligan on piano, John Lakey’s bass, and the drumming of Alan Jones. At each stop on my journeys during the festival, my thoughts kept darting back to the 1950s, and after the first evening’s headline event, the musical high induced by Glover’s brilliance carried with it the shadow of an alternative reality. My ears were in the here and now, but I couldn’t help imagining her blazing performance set in the very different musical world of the mid-1950s.

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Portland Jazz Festival preview: Trane’s Tracks

This year’s jazz extravaganza celebrates the 90th birthday of the great saxophonist, composer, improviser and bandleader John Coltrane

by ANGELA ALLEN

“Coltrane has the power to move people,” says up-and-coming Portland-grown saxophonist Nicole Glover. “He can reach that special place in you that only you have access to. Some people may call it soul. … But you don’t have to be a spiritual person to feel it move you.”

JohnColtraneWikiJohn Coltrane would have been 90 years old this year. The revered saxophonist died five decades ago, but there’s no killing off his art.  Coltrane’s uncannily precise technique that led to the description “sheets of sound” – and more, his unconditional and spiritual devotion to music –  continue to run through jazz’s veins.

The Portland Jazz Festival is honoring him for 11 nights, with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra opening Feb. 18 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre.  About 100 events – 31 of them ticketed –  are at  big and small venues, including hotel lobbies, throughout the Portland area. Many visiting musicians have played with Coltrane or with his disciples who have since connected to the next and newest generation of jazzers.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra opens the PDX Jazz Festival Feb. 18. Photo: Ab McNeely.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra opens the PDX Jazz Festival Feb. 18. Photo: Ab McNeely.

Coltrane’s son, Ravi, also a sax player, will be here. Brandee Younger, who plays the harp as did Coltrane’s late wife, Alice, will be here, playing Alice Coltrane’s music. Musicians who sided with Trane will be here. So will the master’s followers who passed the music on. Consider saxophonists Gary Bartz, Orrin Evans, Charles Lloyd and Joe Lovano, all influenced by Coltrane. Then there’s Trane’s onetime bassist Reggie Workman and free jazz tenor sax titan Pharoah Sanders who played with Coltrane in the ‘60s. They’ll all be here.

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