Monday, March 3, 2014

5 Times In One Night

Crepuscule With Portland
The PDX Jazz Festival is still happening. Last year, I was doing one of the many Jazz Conversations with the great George Cables, and we were talking about hearing music in New York; I wanted to make sure that the Portland folks understood that as impressive as the sheer number of acts during the PDX festival seems to be, this is what New York is like every night of the week! It's great to be here in Portland with so much going on. I amazed myself when I told somebody that I was going to five events in one evening in Portland! Although Portland has a jazz scene which is impressive for a city of it's size, and it is arguably more happening than many other cities, it's still not like New York. Be that as it may, the PDX Festival combines the big stars along with the local musicians fairly well, in a way that shows that there is a lot of potential here to get closer to the feeling of having a year round scene ( as opposed to feeling like it's just two months in February.)

I had to step out of town for a minute earlier in the week. Immediately after teaching my Jazz History class, I drove to Seattle to perform for two nights in a row with Buster Williams and Something More(which humorously was announced the first night as "Something New!") featuring Cindy Blackman-Santana, Julian Preister, and Benny Maupin. I always have fun playing with Buster
Cindy Blackman-Santana
Williams; the band used to include Steve Wilson on alto and Lenny White on drums, so this incarnation was somewhat different, but in a refreshingly good way. (After the second night, I made my escape back to Portland, keeping myself awake on the 3 hour drive back by listening to three contrasting selections: Method Man's "Tical," Rush's "2112", and comedian Aziz Ansari's "Dangerously Delicious.")

This past Friday was hectic in a great way; the festivities began with a "Jazz Conversation" with pianist Helen Sung in our 75 Recital Hall at Portland State University. I've known Sung for over a decade, and it's delightful to see the success she has had as a sideperson as well as a bandleader. The interview was quite informative, and there were some excellent questions from our students. Normally, the Jazz Conversations don't include performing, but I wanted to try a duo with Sung, and it turned out to be a good idea; we jammed on an impromptu version of "Woody N' You". (I hope to have that interview transcribed and it will appear in a future jazztruth post.)

Later that day, I went down to the Hilton and in the bar of Porta Terra was a duo featuring saxophonist Nicole Glover and bassist Jon Lakey. They are two of my best students; normally, they sound really great, but what struck me was that this evening they seemed to have a really intense rapport, more so than usual. It was nice that they invited me up to sit in; I happened to have my trusty melodica with me. Lakey and Glover are graduating this year; I look forward to seeing them transition into becoming real professionals, whether it be in Portland or elsewhere.

Next, after Lakey and I met Helen Sung for a quick dinner of Japanese Curry, I headed back to Lincoln Hall 75 for a concert by the Oregon Guitar Quartet. This was not a PDX Jazz event, however, the group is led by the director of the Portland State University School Of Music, Bryan Johanson. A legend in the classical guitar world, Johanson is a prolific composer as well as a virtuoso on his instrument. The concert featured works from the group's latest CD, entitled "World Tour," which features innovative arrangements of folk music from countries like Japan, Russia, Greece, and Zimbabwe. I find the tone of classical guitar extremely soothing, although the arrangements set many different moods, including an extremely daring arrangement of the jazz standard, "My Funny Valentine."

After the concert, I went over to Ivories to check out the Jeff Baker Quintet. Baker is not only a highly skilled jazz vocalist, he's also an extremely passionate educator, and we are proud to say he is a member of our faculty at Portland State University. In fact, this is the second term that we have had a Vocal Jazz program, which is already wildly successful. As a performer, Baker is highly confident, and always features interesting arrangements.There were some great solos from pianist Justin
Jeff Baker
Nielsen, a Boise native who has tons of chops and a great sense of how to accompany a vocalist.

As Baker ended his set with a funky arrangement of "All Blues," I decided to run over to the Mission Theater and catch the end of the Portland Jazz Composer's Ensemble Showcase. I always enjoy hearing drummer and composer Barra Brown's band. The group featured saxophonist Nicole Glover once again, as well as trumpeter Thomas Barber and guitarist Adam Brock. Brown's music is very simple and triadic, although it's interesting to hear Barber play modern jazz lines over the placid chord progressions. Brown's drumming is solid and tasteful, and fits the compositions well.

After their set, I ran back to Ivories for a PDX Festival Jam Session hosted by alto saxophonist and PSU faculty David Valdez. Ivories was packed with a who's who of Portland Jazz; Helen Sung came by, and trumpeter Marcus Printup also showed up fresh off his gig with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. It was a great way to end an exhausting yet inspiring evening of music. Yes, I went to five concerts in one night, not including my jazz conversation with Helen Sung; many are remarking on how jazz seems to be thriving in Portland, and I think this night proves them right. I think Portland is better than many cities in regards to jazz; however, I think we have a ways to go before we realize our true potential. I'm hoping that within the next few years, Portland will become a mecca for jazz and live music and be one of the best places for jazz in the U.S.A., if not the world.

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