PDX Jazz, the presenting organization of the Portland Jazz Festival, began operations in 2003 in preparation of the inaugural 2004 Jazz Festival. Conceived by former Mt Hood Festival Artistic Director Bill Royston, the proposed annual event was awarded a three-year city government grant with co-founder and partner Travel Portland (formally POVA). The Festival’s mandate was established as a cultural tourism initiative to celebrate February’s Black History Month by highlighting a series of jazz education and outreach programs that would extend into Portland’s schools and community centers.
The Festival began to schedule dozens of ways to experience jazz through free and paid performances, lectures, films, exhibitions and jam sessions. From the organization’s beginning, education and outreach were established as a core mission in developing the next generation of jazz audiences. The Incredible Journey of Jazz, developed by Darrell Grant and Lynn Darroch, established the Festival’s educational programming mission, focusing on middle school students through an illuminating multi-media presentation boasting historical narration and performance. The PDX Jazz Student Stage and the engaging Jazz Conversation series joined the IJOJ as complimentary initiatives. Recently added educational programs include Jazz in the Schools and the Jazz Forward Competition in partnership with Portland State University and the Leroy Vinegar Institute.
With a multitude of headliners presented – including Esperanza Spalding’s major debut in 2008 – the festival stretched out to 10 days over two weekends and programmed shows at the famed Crystal Ballroom, Newmark and Winningstad Theatres. Curated thematic programming ensued with a focus on emerging international jazz artists, many of whom recorded under the famed ECM banner.
Shortly after the 2008 Festival, PDX Jazz abruptly closed. The announcement resulted in Alaska Airlines becoming the new title sponsor, allowing the 2009 Festival to present its boldest program Blue Note @ 70. The following year, PDX Jazz followed an earlier format of one long weekend and selling out all performances.
In 2011 PDX Jazz @ The Mission became a monthly series focused on exclusive tribute programs by Portland artists including Ramsey Embick: A Tribute to Joe Zawinul; The Bridge Quartet: Crossing Into The Monkasphere; Dan Balmer: “Far Wes” A Tribute to Wes Montgomery and George Colligan: “Hands On”: A Tribute to Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. The monthly series also featured acclaimed nationally and internationally recognized artists such as Bill Frisell, Nik Bartsch Ronin, Jenny Scheinman, The Bad Plus, and John Medeski among others.
After the conclusion of the 2012 festival, PDX Jazz began a partnership with Portland’s most prestigious jazz club, Jimmy Mak’s, allowing the organization to present emerging and established national artists on a year-round basis. Artists appearing have included Thelonious Monk Competition Winners: Joshua Redman, Ben Williams, Jacky Terrasson, and Melissa Aldana. Additional shows through the years have included: Monty Alexander, Ravi Coltrane, Orrin Evans, Terence Blanchard, Avishai and Anat Cohen, Delfeayo Marsalis, and the famed Clayton Brothers, among others.
At the end of 2014, PDX Jazz relocated its longtime offices from downtown to the Alberta Abbey, a de-commissioned Baptist Church adjacent to Portland’s historic jazz neighborhood between MLK Blvd. and N. Williams Avenue. The Abbey boasts a 385 seat sanctuary which PDX Jazz utilizes, along with other east side venues — Classic Pianos, Holocene, Mississippi Studios and most recently a historic performance by Wayne Shorter at Revolution Hall.
A SHORT HISTORY OF PDX JAZZ
In its first year, Portland Jazz Festival was awarded the Portland Oregon Visitors Association’s President’s Award in acknowledgment of its innovation in cultural tourism.
Presented the North American premiere of Andy Narell & Calypsociation, a Paris based 16-piece steel drum orchestra on February 19 which was recorded by National Public Radio (NPR) and was broadcasted to over 100 affiliates throughout North America, April 2005. Native American musician Jim Pepper best known for his composition Witchi-Tai-To, was honored on a program supported by the efforts of Jack Berry, the program’s MC. The show also coincided with an announced partnership with Portland State University, which was in part due to the 2005 senate resolution honoring the life and achievements of the acclaimed altoist.
Coordinated NOLA 2 PDX in partnership with Azumano Travel and Mercy Corps. After Hurricane Katrina in September 2005, NOLA2PDX provided travel, housing, donated instruments and work opportunities to musicians from New Orleans.
Produced Crystal Silence: The History of ECM Records, a series of lectures, panel discussions, Jazz Conversations, and performances featuring Chick Corea & Gary Burton, Charles Lloyd, and the North American premier of the Trygve Seim ensemble.
Portland Jazz Festival this year started with Ornette Coleman and ended with Cecil Taylor presenting movements in avant garde with the theme of The Shape of Jazz to Come. Artistic Director Bill Royston nominated as Jazz Producer of the Year by Jazz Journalists Association.
Portland Jazz Festival presented the north American celebration of the Somethin’ Else: Blue Note Records at 70. Blue Note Records—one of the world’s most legendary labels celebrated the 70th anniversary of the label’s founding by Alfred Lion, as well as the 25th anniversary of the its re-launch in 1984 under then President Bruce Lundvall. The Festival featured performances from Blue Note’s past and present roster, as well as panel discussions about the label’s legacy with Bruce Lundvall, Michael Cuscuna, and various jazz artists, writers and historians. Bill Royston is again nominated as Jazz Producer of the Year by Jazz Journalists Association.
The Festival focused on new Norwegian and Scandanavian music, and called itself Is Jazz dead, or has it moved to a new address? It showcased U.S. premieres by Trygve Seim and Frode Haltli, Christian Wallumrod, and In The Country.
This year Bridges and Boundaries introduced a modern twist on a historical collaboration between African American and Jewish musicians. The first integrated jazz band evolved when Benny Goodman, a Jew, hired guitarist Charlie Christian. Later, when Charlie Parker formed his classic jazz quintet, he invited Jewish trumpeter Red Rodney to join his band. This year’s festival featured Dave Frishberg, The Three Cohen’s, Randy Weston, Regina Carter, and Joshua Redman, just to name a few; plus Portland Jazz Festival’s new Artistic & Community Ambassador Esperanza Spalding.
For Portland Only, the Festival kicked off with Esperanza Spalding emotionally introducing her former teacher, this year’s Portland Jazz Master, Thara Memory, in a sold out program titled “Artfully Miles,” which boasted over two dozen student and professional musicians, and two spoken word griots. This festival put a strong focus on local artists interacting with headliners Branford Marsalis/Joey Calderazzo, Roy Haynes, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Bill Frisell, Charlie Hunter, Vijay Iyer with Prasanna and Nitin Mitt, Enrico Rava, The Jazz Passengers, and Garth Fagan Dance through various concerts, guest appearances and outreach/educational programs. Various performances were curated and performed only for Portland audiences.
The 10th anniversary festival featured return engagements and high profile debuts from a wide array of artists: Afro Cuban All-Stars, the west coast premiere of ACS featuring Esperanza Spalding with Geri Allen and Terri Lyne Carrington, Patricia Barber, Scott Hamilton, Jack DeJohnette, Steve Kuhn, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Portland Jazz Master, Nancy King. A world premiere tribute to Art Blakey was organized by former Blakey music director Javon Jackson, Art Abrams and the Swing Machine Big Band performed an authentic reworking of classic Stan Kenton material and 92 year old NEA Jazz master Gerald Wilson appeared for the first time in Portland since 1949!
The 11th Jazz Festival featured memorable contributions from many of the first ladies in jazz: NEA Jazz Master Toshiko Akiyoshi, Helen Sung, Grace Kelly, Eliane Elias, Esperanza Spalding (featured with the Spring Quartet), Cindy Blackman Santana (featured with Buster Williams), the breakthrough performance from Thelonious Monk Competition winner, Cecille McLorin-Salvant, and Janice Scroggins in her last major public performance. Also memorable was Ahmad Jamal performing in Portland for the first time since 1984, the debut by the APA Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz, Aaron Diehl, the Yellowjackets performing for the first time in 10 years, and Portland Jazz Master’s, Oregon in one of their last U.S. performances prior to the departure of co-founder Glen Moore.
The 12th annual festival stretched to 12 days, the longest ever in its history. Tributes to Frank Sinatra featuring Kurt Elling, Two-time Grammy winner Billy Childs remembering Laura Nyro, singer Jackie Ryan recasting Michel Legrand’s legacy honoring Portland Jazz Master Wayne Thompson, Freda Payne and Mel Brown on My Town is Motown and Brown also with Joe McBride on Ray Charles, What’D I Say Brother Ray. NEA Jazz Masters, Lee Konitz, Lou Donaldson, Ron Carter, and Shiela Jordan performed. Bill Charlap played a compelling Sinatra tribute, In the Wee Small Hours, blues man Lucky Peterson made his festival debut as well as Network Trio with Charente Moffett, Jeff Tain Watts and Stanley Jordan. The festival launched two new education initiatives-Jazz in the Schools and the Jazz Forward High School Big Band Competition in partnership with PSU. For the first time, local and national artists were programmed at Jimmy Maks every night of the festival.