Lynn Darroch

A dozen great reads from 2017

From a Lewis Carroll lark to a rambling Road Dog to a play about a baby to art out of ocean garbage, twelve ArtsWatch stories not to miss

A dance critic walks into an art show. A man and his dog travel the byroads of America. A pop song sinks into a writer’s soul. A jazz pianist walks into the wilderness. A play about a baby strikes a theater reviewer close to home. On the southern Oregon coast, artists make huge sculptures from the detritus that chokes the sea.

We run a lot of stories on a lot of subjects at Oregon ArtsWatch – more than 500 in 2017 alone – and a few stand out simply as stories that want to be told. Put together a good writer and a good subject and chances are you’ll get a memorable tale. Here are a dozen such stories from 2017.



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A look back at a dozen stories from 2017 you won’t want to miss:


Matthew Kerrigan reinterprets Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit, with a fleeting attention span ruled by a smartphone.

We’re all mad here … so let’s party

Jan. 31: “What do you do with your existential frustration? If you boil it down into its purest form, you get either despair or rage—which then has to be dealt with. But if you chill it out and mix in some humor, you end up with absurdity. And that can be played with! O Frabjous Day!” A.L. Adams got down in the existential trenches with Shaking the Tree’s We’re All Mad Here, a piece performed and largely conceived by Matthew Kerrigan in homage to the great absurdist Lewis Carroll. “Any drug-addled dodo could dream up a different world, but that wasn’t the crux of Carroll’s vision. Like his forebears Aesop and Chaucer and Jonathan ‘Gulliver’ Swift, Carroll was a satirist as well as a fabulist.”


ArtsWatch Weekly: Berlin stories

Andrea Stolowitz's "Berlin Diaries," world premiere at the ballet, new on stage, Brett Campbell's music picks, lots of links

The corner of culture, art, and politics is a busy intersection these days, when suddenly each seems to have something significant to say about the others, and so Andrea Stolowitz’s new play Berlin Diary, although it deals with events three-quarters of a century ago, also seems very much of the current moment.

Stolowitz, the Portland playwright and Oregon Book Award winner, spent a year in Berlin on a Fulbright scholarship retracing the steps of her “lost” Jewish family, those stuck in the archives after her German Jewish great grandfather escaped to New York City in the late 1930s. Shortly after, he began to keep a journal to pass along to his descendants, and it’s that family book that prompted Stolowitz’s sojourn in Berlin and the construction of this play.

Playwright Andrea Stolowitz, creator of “Berlin Diary.”

The past comes forward in recurring waves, touching futures as they unfold. “It’s not easy to get a Berlin audience to laugh at jokes about the Holocaust,” Lily Kelting of NPR Berlin wrote when Berlin Diary premiered there last October. “But American playwright Andrea Stolowitz manages to do just that in her latest premiere at the English Theater Berlin.” Kelting continues: “She says that writing the play has helped her realize that the guilt of surviving the Holocaust was a secret that ultimately tore her family in the States apart — even generations later.”


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.


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