Esperanza Spalding

Rhythm in the Rain

As the Portland Jazz Festival kicks in, Lynn Darroch's new book charts the history and culture of jazz in the Northwest. An excerpt.

Jazz in the Pacific Northwest grew up in cities with rough and tumble origins and small African-American populations, far from centers of influence and power and shaped by the water and mountains that surround them. In his new book, Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest (Ooligan Press, 2016), journalist and performing artist Lynn Darroch chronicles the development and remarkable character of the region’s jazz community. In the process, he helps define the broader culture of the Upper Left Coast. 

As the latest Portland Jazz Festival kicks into high gear, ArtsWatch celebrates the history and culture of jazz in the Northwest by reprinting the introductory chapter of Darroch’s book. He performs stories and other passages from the book live with pianist Tom Grant at 7:30 p.m.  February 24 at Classic Pianos, and reads from the book at 7:30 p.m. March 2 at Powell’s City of Books downtown.



Introduction: We Live Here

“Every day I can see the mountains—St. Helens, Rainier, Hood, Adams—and I want to climb. A lot of what makes a great climber is the same as what makes a great improviser: courage, strength, creativity, total awareness of environment, the ability to focus pin-pointedly and generally at the same time—and finally, to let go of all ambitions, inhibitions, thoughts … and play.”

Alan Jones

Esperanza Spalding didn’t want to waste any time after her surprise win for Best New Artist at the 2011 Grammy Awards. She’d grown up hard in Portland and knew how unlikely the award was for a young black woman playing jazz. So she was in a hurry to put her fame to use—and knew exactly what she wanted to do: “Help the pillars of my jazz community gain the recognition they deserve.”

It took only two years.

At the 2013 Awards ceremony, Spalding shared another Grammy—this time for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)—with Thara Memory, her Portland mentor, for his arrangement of her song “City of Roses.” From her multi-award-winning album Radio Music Society, the hometown tribute also featured students from Memory’s American Music Program.

Esperanza Spalding, 2011 Grammy Artist of the Year winner, was born and raised in Portland. Photo courtesy Andrea Mancini.

Esperanza Spalding, 2011 Grammy Artist of the Year winner, was born and raised in Portland. Photo courtesy Andrea Mancini.

If a single moment can capture the story of jazz in the Pacific Northwest, this might be it.

At the podium to receive the award, Memory leaned on his former student’s arm. He was sixty-five and had lost a foot and parts of two fingers to diabetes. The Grammy was the culmination of a path he’d been on since age twelve, when he fell in love with the music of Miles Davis and started hanging around backstage whenever the leading man of jazz played nearby.

One day, Davis approached.

“You’re that trumpet player, aren’t you?” His voice was challenging. “I bet you can’t play worth a shit.”

Memory was stunned but quickly took heart—the man had sought him out, recognized him. His reply became a vow that determined the course of his life.

“Well, no, not compared to you I can’t,” he said. “But I can hold down my own thing; I can hold down my own thing and bring some people up with me.”

He did, and there he was, fifty years later: an underdog African American musician and teacher, originally from the South, accepting a Grammy Award with a former student who shared her success with the folks back home.


Rounding up rampant arts news

Involving Linda Magee, Damaso Rodriguez, Oregon Symphony and Esperanza Spalding, Mayor Sam Adams

Esperanza Spalding gets three Grammy nominations.

Sometimes news just floods in, and we have to collect it all into one omnibus post and resolve to get back to the individual pieces later. That’s a lot like now, for example, because on the heels of Christopher Stowell’s departure from Oregon Ballet Theatre, a bunch more stuff has happened.

Linda Magee leaves Chamber Music Northwest

Ever since I came to Portland in 1979, Linda Magee has served as executive director of Chamber Music Northwest, running a tight, efficient organization that supported art making of a high order. Classical music organizations have had their struggles, especially recently, but CMNW has managed to adjust and keep things going. Last season, attendance was up 11 percent and the budget was balanced.

So, I was surprised to hear this morning that she was leaving. Here’s part of the press release:

“Making this decision has been hard, and I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while. I’m very confident that the organization’s future is a bright one, and it’s an appropriate time to turn over the reins to a new leader. I am proud of my accomplishments and of my legacy, and I look forward with excitement to new opportunities in the next phase of my career, and to having the chance to spend more time with my mother. I deeply value the many friendships I have made through CMNW, and will be forever grateful for the generosity of those who helped build CMNW into the treasure it is today.”

Magee’s partner through these years has been artistic director David Shifrin, whose contract runs through 2016. So, he will be on hand to help the transition with a replacement ED. And Magee’s staff is excellent, too, so while a search committee does its due diligence, things will be in good hands. In the meantime, though, we owe Linda both thanks and congratulations for her remarkable tenure at CMNW.

Damaso Rodriguez

Artists Repertory Theatre names a new artistic director

Following Allen Nause won’t be an easy task because he fit the ecology of ART so well, both artistically and personally, but new artistic director Dámaso Rodriguez comes to the task with a lot of pertinent experience. He co-founded a small, experimental theater company (the Furious Theatre Ensemble), a little like Chris Coleman did in Atlanta before coming to Portland Center Stage. And he worked as associate artistic director at a big theater, the Pasadena Playhouse, which went into bankruptcy while he was there (though it emerged and is now doing fine).

Named on Thursday to replace Nause, Rodriguez comes having worked with Hollywood stars at the Pasadena Playhouse (as Nause worked with William Hurt at ART) and shown a predilection for quirky contemporary plays. He will direct the West Coast premiere of “Ten Chimneys” by Jeffery Hatcher as his Artists Rep directorial debut in April.

He also is ambitious for the company. From the press release:

“I endeavor to create a home for the region’s most talented writers and build an environment and process for nurturing new work that inspires writers from around the world to premiere their work in Portland. Additionally, I intend to expand over the months and years ahead Artists Rep’s Resident Acting Company into a larger Ensemble of Artists that will include writers, directors and designers, as well as actors. I hold a sincere, passionate belief in collaboration and that the ensemble model is the best way to form a community of artists, production staff and administrators.”

We’ll be talking to him in days to come, so stay tuned!

Portland means… Grammy nominations!

In general the Grammy Awards mean practically nothing to me, but they mean enough to other people to note the musicians with local connections who nab a nomination, right?

So, a tip of the hat to the Oregon Symphony for the two nominations around last year’s “Music for a Time of War” CD on the Pentatone label for Best Orchestral Performance and for Best Engineered Album, Classical. That’s from the program that earned such critical enthusiasm for the orchestra at Carnegie Hall last year: Ives, Adams, Britten and Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony. Which says that great, adventurous work IS sometimes rewarded.

Bassist/vocalist/band leader Esperanza Spalding got three mentions herself for her “Radio Music Society” album: 1) Best Jazz Vocal Album 2) Long Form Music Video, and 3) a joint nomination with trumpeter and educator Thara Memory for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for their “City of Roses.”

The Grammy awards will be announced on February 10. Best of luck!

An art party for Mayor Sam Adams

The support offered by Mayor Sam Adams to the arts community during his four years of mayor was really unprecedented, and judging from the comments of the major mayoral candidates this year, including mayor-elect Charlie Hales, that level of support will continue. Which is a major accomplishment all by itself.

The arts community is honoring Mayor Adams tonight at YU (Friday).á After a sold-out patron reception, the doors will open for a dance party at 9 pm, “featuring DJ PRASHANT, DJ EVAN ALEXANDER, Poison Waters, Anansi Beat, Boombots, Isaac Trimble, Axe Dide Samba, SexBots, Sabor Latino, Clay Hoffman, The Sliders, and other surprise performances throughout the evening.” Admission is $25 and proceeds go to  The Right Brain Initiative and Work for Art.

It’s likely we’ll explore the Adams contribution to arts in the city at greater length in the future, just because it was so different. And needed.

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