portland jazz festival

ArtsWatch Weekly: and all that jazz

Portland Jazz Festival joins the parade of arts festivals in town; a new "Swan Lake" flies at Oregon Ballet

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Festival Town. (And Valentine’s Day. Don’t forget Valentine’s Day.) Three film celebrations – the Portland Black Film Festival, the Cascadia Festival of African Films, and the big-kahuna 40th annual Portland International Film Festival – are still spooling out stories on screens around town.

And on Thursday the PDX Jazz Festival 2017 roars into action with a packed program through February 26 arranged loosely around an homage to jazz centurions Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Buddy Rich, each born in 1917. Things kick off Thursday with a blast of Branford Marsalis, a thump of bass virtuoso Thundercat, and more, and the festival continues with the likes of the fabulous Heath Brothers, The Yellowjackets, and more. It’s not all old-style and it’s not all new, but a healthy-looking blend of tradition and exploration.

ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell offers tips for this week’s shows, beginning with Thursday’s Marsalis quartet appearance “with the great jazz singer Kurt Elling, Maria Schneider’s orchestra and Ralph Peterson’s trio in separate shows Friday, the hip jazz-rock fusion band Kneebody and the old-school all-star band The Cookers on Saturday. On Sunday, you have a choice of pop jazzers the Yellowjackets with Mike Stern, avant jazz guitar deity James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, or rising piano star Aminca Claudine Myers (or see all three!).”

2017 PDX Jazz Fest honoree Dizzy Gillespie, at Deauville, France, July 1991. Photo: Roland Godefroy/Wikimedia Commons

In his preview PDX Jazz Festival: Signs of Life, Campbell sets the table more completely, talking about the state of jazz in Portland and internationally. Here’s just a taste of what he has to say:


ArtsWatch Weekly: farewell jazz fest, young lovers, noblesse oblige

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Well, that was quite a week, wasn’t it?

  • We saw Downton Abbey off to that great fox hunt in the sky, with a whizbang final episode that brought babies and pairings-off tumbling into the untaped future and put a stamp on the age of noblesse oblige. All in all it was, we noted (quoting the most excellent Dowager Countess Maggie Smith, for so we tend to think of her), “happy enough.”
  • We wrapped up the latest PDX Jazz Festival, which was dedicated to John Coltrane and his fellow reed players but was at least as notable, Angela Allen writes, for the excellence of its pianists. Allen praised the likes of sax virtuosos Nicole Glover, Sonny Fortune, Ravi Coltrane, and others, then added: “The keyboardists, though, stole my heart — not only the soloists but the sidemen who played in trios and quartets, duos and big bands, alongside the headliners.” The esteemed jazz journalist Doug Ramsey was in town for the festivities, too, and filed several reviews on his excellent site Rifftides, which we’ve reprinted with his permission here. Also, do take a gander at Mark Sheldon’s wonderful photos accompanying both stories of musical moments frozen in time, including this one, of 77-year-old sound explorer Charles Lloyd:
Charles Lloyd © 2016 Mark Sheldon

Charles Lloyd © 2016 Mark Sheldon

  • And we took a multifaceted look at Oregon Ballet Theatre’s newly announced season and its just-closed revival of James Canfield’s Romeo and Juliet, a long-missing company cornerstone: Canfield, OBT’s founding artistic director, brought it into the company with him when OBT was formed in 1990, but until this production it hadn’t been seen onstage here in more than fifteen years. First, in Sweet tragedy: rehearsing ‘R&J’, Martha Ullman West delves into the rehearsal hall and the ballet world’s history with Shakespeare’s teenage tragedy. Then, in Ballet masters of the 21st century, dance journalist and former dancer Gavin Larsen follows OBT’s ballet masters Lisa Kipp and Jeff Stanton as they prepare the company’s dancers for the ballet. Finally, in A fresh ‘R&J,’ a fling with the giants, Ullman West talks about OBT’s just-announced 2016-17 season (called Giants) and reviews the performance of R&J, in which she finds Ansa Deguchi revelatory as Juliet.


Portland Jazz Festival reviews: Ramsey’s wrap up

Renowned jazz journalist's reviews of the 2016 jazz extravaganza



Editor’s note: ArtsWatch is honored to feature the first appearance on our pages of one of America’s most esteemed jazz journalists, former Portland resident Doug Ramsey, who was back in town for the 2016 Portland Jazz Festival. He conducted one of the festival’s Jazz Conversations with piano legend Kenny Barron and issued reviews on his excellent blog, Rifftides. We rounded them up and, with Ramsey’s permission, are re-publishing them here.

Sullivan Fortner

In his solo piano concert opening the Portland Jazz Festival last night, Sullivan Fortner surveyed a wide territory of styles and wrapped them into his own. At the Bösendorfer grand in the recital hall of Classic Pianos, Fortner’s program ranged from a spiky treatment of Bronislaw Kaper’s “Invitation” through an encore saluting Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

Sullivan Fortner ©2016-Mark Sheldon.

Sullivan Fortner ©2016-Mark Sheldon.

Fresh from winning the American Pianists Association’s Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz, Fortner incorporated influences both subtle and obvious. He used the blues to work his way into “Making Whoopee and invested the performance with a rollicking quote from “Surrey With The Fringe on Top” and a sly borrowing from Willie The Lion Smith’s “Echoes of Spring.” Fortner seems anything but calculated in his improvisations. In “Someone to Watch Over Me,” he led himself briefly into what might have been a blind harmonic alley and with a daring octave leap found a way out. He made a transition from Bill Evans’s “Very Early” to his own composition “Ballade,” which included a lovely cycle-of-5ths section.

Although he can be dazzling in his use of technique, nothing Fortner plays seems intended purely for effect. He made clever paraphrases of the melody in “Just One of Those Things,” worked in a few seconds of waltz time, hinted at James P. Johnson’s swing feeling, then went into the full stride piano style of which Johnson was the master. Introducing his melding of Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose” and Strayhorn’s “Star Crossed Lovers,” he described their storied partnership as a “love story” inspired by the Divinity, then reflected on his own love of the piano and of music.

Fortner dedicated “My Favorite Things” to John Coltrane. He created an introduction that may have had its inspiration in Coltrane’s free period, slid into a liberal interpretation of the famous melody, made a tag ending that flirted with ¾ time, then used a series of key changes to bring the piece home. The festival—dedicated to Coltrane—was off to a good start.


Portland Jazz Festival review: Pianists prevail

Though the spotlight shone on saxophones, keyboard masters tickled heartstrings and ivories at the 2016 festival



Virtuoso saxophonists were the Coltrane-centric Portland Jazz Festival’s backbone Feb. 18-28: Joe Lovano, Gary Bartz, Nicole Glover, Charles Lloyd, Sonny Fortune, Renato Caranto, Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane — not in that order.

The keyboardists, though, stole my heart — not only the soloists but the sidemen who played in trios and quartets, duos and big bands, alongside the headliners.

Gerald Clayton © 2016 Mark Sheldon

Gerald Clayton © 2016 Mark Sheldon

Throughout the 11-night extravaganza, musicians brought so much technical talent. They delivered high-spirited performances with originality, even if I heard second-week high-profilers Ravi Coltrane and Orrin Evans complain that audiences demand the oldies, limiting experimentation that fuels new music.

Some special recognition over the jazz festival week, mostly keyboard-related.

Most whimsical piece: “Shed,” named for saxophonist Joshua Redman’s mother, Renee Shedroff. Aaron Goldberg composed and played it, stretching his neck like an Egyptian muse or a cobra, during his first-week solo concert at Classic Pianos. Heavy on staccato notes with some fun rhythmic structure in the left hand, it spoofs Redman’s sax practicing — and he practices a lot, according to Goldberg. Redman is one of Goldberg’s mentors, collaborators and role models: They both went to Harvard and Goldberg picked his brain for how to survive Harvard and remain a driven jazz musician (don’t play with Harvard guys, they both say).

Goldberg is a smooth, cerebral pianist, technically savvy, a lover of Brazilian song, a master of control. His newest CD, The Now, with several Brazilian-inspired cuts, shows his respect for that country’s vibrant song-writing tradition, which Goldberg claims equals, sometimes surpasses, America’s songbook these days. He is such a skilled improviser and fluid player that songs move seamlessly and stealthily into one another. “Autumn Leaves” emerged as one of the few instantly recognized pieces.

Most moving trio keyboard playing: Gerald Clayton, son of band leader and bassist John Clayton and a 31-year-old piano phenom, helped the very tall and slightly stooped Charles Lloyd on and off the Newmark Theatre stage during the first weekend. Clayton climbed high to the peaks and fell deep to the valleys of the “Wild Man Dance Suite” with the lyrical Lloyd, who will be a remarkable 78 years old this month. Clayton and drummer Eric Harland amped up the quartet with their solos. In Portland in previous years with the SF Jazz Collective and other gigs, Harland plays on Goldberg’s The Now. During Lloyd’s concert, he knocked out the sweetest, softest, most dynamic — OK, most orgasmic —drum solo of the fest. He doesn’t answer his email from writers he doesn’t know, but hey, if he can drum like that …

Brandee Younger © 2016 Mark Sheldon-PDX JAZZ -3015

Brandee Younger © 2016 Mark Sheldon

Best educator: Although I didn’t catch every concert, I’d lay bets on harpist Brandee Younger. During her sold-out solo concert at Classic Pianos on Feb. 28, she took the eager audience through Dorothy Ashby interpretations, including Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic,” a Welsh folk song, classic harp compositions from composer Alphonse Hasselmans, Charlie Haden’s “For Turiya,” standards “Embraceable You” and “My Funny Valentine,” and best of all, Alice Coltrane’s Hindu-inspired “Rama Rama.”


ArtsWatch Weekly: Tragic love, Lear, art hop, film fest, all that jazz

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Not to give anything away, but it ends tragically. Maybe you’ve heard the tale: hot young guy, eager young miss, ardent passions, balcony scene, feuding families, stroke of violence, thwarted plan, poison potion, doom. Yes, it’s true: Romeo and Juliet‘s back in town. And not just any R&J, but James Canfield’s sumptuous ballet version. Canfield created it in 1989 for Pacific Ballet Theatre, and brought it with him to the new Oregon Ballet Theatre the following year when PBT and Ballet Oregon merged, and made it a mainstay of OBT’s repertory. It hasn’t been seen onstage here in more than fifteen years, since before Canfield and the OBT board parted ways abruptly in 2003, and Canfield’s work largely disappeared from town. Under artistic director Kevin Irving, OBT has been renewing the acquaintance, healing old wounds, and now one of Canfield’s signature pieces is back on the OBT stage at Keller Auditorium, opening Saturday and continuing through March 5. A little history is about to happen, and we’re not talking about the Shakespeare.

Ansa Deguchi and Brian Simcoe in James Canfield's "Romeo & Juliet" at Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Ansa Deguchi and Brian Simcoe in James Canfield’s “Romeo & Juliet” at Oregon Ballet Theatre. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert



On the other hand, with this one we are talking about the Shakespeare. And about the multitalented Portland stage and screen veteran Tobias Andersen, who at the beginning of his ninth decade is crawling out on the heath in the title role of the great King Lear. This is in many ways the pinnacle role in Shakespeare’s plays (although that’s open to a lot of argument), even more so than Hamlet or Prince Hal or Prospero or Macbeth, all of whom will get votes, along with some of the comic characters like Falstaff and Beatrice and Benedick. Andersen opens on Friday night at Post5 Theater, and we expect some weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and, more to the point, a performer capable of diving deeply and profoundly into the tragedy. It continues through March 19.


Tobias Andersen as Lear: "You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout!" Photo: Russell J. Young

Tobias Andersen as Lear: “You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout!” Photo: Russell J. Young



Sunday, as you might have heard, will be the outpouring of the celebrity orgy that is the Academy Awards, and though it’s one of the most watched television spectacles on the planet, one of its dirty little secrets (it has quite a few) is that vast swaths of the broadcast audience won’t have seen most of the movies that are vying for statuettes. “I’ll catch it when it comes to Netflix,” people tell themselves, and then … well, where does the time go?


Brian Blade: Serving the music

For the eminent jazz drummer and bandleader, who brings his Fellowship Band to Eugene and Portland this week, drumming in a band is about completing relationships


The first time I saw Brian Blade, he was playing with Wayne Shorter at Bonn with 59,000 views, 375 likes, and 5 dislikes. The video had been recommended to me by Derek Sims, my instructor at the Alan Jones Academy of Music. I remember being intently focused at about the 6:30 mark. Shorter significantly increases the tension with a long note and Blade pauses to yell before repeatedly smashing his cymbals.

Seeing the expression on Blade’s face when Shorter hit that note has influenced my playing a lot. He was listening to what John and Daniel were playing before right before Wayne played that note, so he knew how it fit in and what exactly it meant. Brian’s tirade of crashes only delivers its devastating impact because it fits perfectly with the amount of tension being released in that moment. This has influenced me to listen to the musicians around me and not play the latest Luke Holland Esq fill I’ve been working on, but to fit my role of supplying “color, and rhythmic and harmonic motion” as Brian Blade himself would say.


Like the moment in that video, Brian Blade’s highly textured playing contains many surprises, with moments of rapid tension growth and extreme climaxes. This has inspired me to think of the drum set as more than just a groove and fill machine, but also as an ambience creator. I try to incorporate this idea into my playing whenever possible.

Alan Jones sums it up perfectly. “He has an absolutely unique voice, and an immense amount of ability on the instrument,” he says. “He’s been a huge influence on a whole generation of drummers. As a composer and bandleader, he really has a style that you can identify and that is beautiful. He’s a very diverse and excellent musician, not just a drummer. I think most importantly, he’s a beautiful person, very humble and wise. There’s really no way in which I don’t respect and admire Brian Blade.”

Brian Blade started singing in his gospel church choir when he was growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana. His brother, Brady Blade Jr., played drums for church, and inspired Brian to focus on them throughout middle and high school. They took drum lessons from the same teacher. Every lesson, all they had was a grey Remo™ practice pad that they used to work on rudimentary exercises.

“It was humbling,” Brian Blade remembers. “If you couldn’t deal with these exercises just on this, when you get to the drums you really won’t be doing much more.” In high school, his teacher recommended albums by John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and other similar jazz giants, and Blade says that opened up the whole world for him.

At Loyola University, Blade had two drum teachers who taught him two completely different and valuable ways of playing the drum set. Studying in New Orleans gave him the chance to play with the best musicians in the area. Blade started the Fellowship Band in 1997 after he met Jon Cowherd, Chris Thomas, Melvin Butler, and Myron Walden. Since then, he has toured with that group as well as with Wayne Shorter’s quartet, Chick Corea, and others. He released Mama Rosa in 2009, a solo album based on homemade four track recordings, on which he sings and plays guitar. After touring heavily for many years, Blade is pretty settled now back home in Louisiana, once again playing drums for his church.

Blade brings his Fellowship Band to the Shedd on Wednesday February 24 and to the Portland Jazz Festival this Thursday, February 25. I talked to Blade last week about his career and philosophy of music. Answers have been edited for clarity.


Pat Martino preview: In the Moment

Legendary jazz guitarist performs at Portland Jazz Festival


“The past doesn’t exist,” says Pat Martino. “The future doesn’t exist. What exists is now.”

Since 1980, when he underwent neurosurgery for a life-threatening brain aneurysm, jazz guitarist Martino’s memories are foggy, sometimes nonexistent. Partly because of this condition, Martino stresses the importance of the present. He insists that his past experiences and future ambitions aren’t so important.

Pat Martino

Pat Martino

Martino’s emphasis on the moment sits at the core of his approach to music.  His music happens in the now, as he and his band members adapt to each other and the changing demands of each particular song. Accordingly, Martino’s Feb 20th Portland Jazz Festival show at the Newmark Theatre will be an exercise in improvisation, in adaption to the moment. “It’s difficult to give a preface to experience,” Martino says. “Improvisation not only takes place in the structure of the music. Improvisation is life itself.”

Last Friday, I talked with Pat Martino. He told me about his musical philosophy, his upcoming concert at the Portland Jazz Festival with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Carmen Intorre, and his life — or at least what he could remember of it.


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