Q&A: Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish

Nick Fish

An interview with PDX Jazz Artistic Director Don Lucoff.

Q: When did jazz first get on your radar?

A: I started listening to jazz in college. My roommates introduced me to Ronnie Laws, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, and Dave Brubeck. I later branched out to Miles Davis, Monk, and Coltrane. On a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, I heard Oscar Peterson for the first time. And I spent many evenings in New York City listening to jazz at the Village Vanguard, Algonquin, and Café Carlyle. Years later, like many others, I continued my jazz education through NPR listening to Nancy Wilson’s “Jazz Profiles” and Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz” program.

Q: You are thoughtfully referred to as the Jazz Commissioner. What is Portland Parks & Recreation’s role when it comes to supporting the arts and potentially jazz in particular?

A: As the new Commissioner-in-Charge of Portland Parks & Recreation, I am looking for ways to showcase jazz in our many venues. That includes Summer Free For All, concerts in Dawson and Washington Parks, and opportunities in neighborhoods throughout the city. We also want to expand offerings in PP&R’s two venues, the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (IFCC) and the Community Music Center. Finally, I am working to expand our partnership with PDX Jazz.

Q: You knew Jimmy Makarounis. Please sum up his impact as a jazz advocate for the City of Portland.

A: Jimmy Mak’s was like a second home to me. I loved sitting at the bar, visiting with friends, and listening to great music. Seattle has Jazz Alley, Portland had Jimmy Mak’s. It’s where I first learned about our tremendous homegrown talent, which Jimmy always featured. We’re lucky to live in a City with such a rich history of jazz.

Q: What jazz artists have you heard lately that have knocked you out and why?

A: I’m impressed with how dynamic the jazz scene is today. Emerging artists coupled with masters — all featured at PDX Jazz. The wide range of music on KMHD radio — the best jazz station in America. Young and old musicians keeping a great artistic tradition alive.

Q: In your travels as our cultural ambassador while working with RACC, how has jazz been perceived by the outside world? Certainly Esperanza Spalding, Darrell Grant and others serve as wonderful role models.

A: Portland is seen as a jazz hub. Of course, everyone’s heard of Esperanza Spalding and Mel Brown. But what makes Portland special is all the local artists who continue to perform in clubs across the city — Devin Phillips, Becky Kilgore, Dan Balmer, Randy Porter, Nancy King, Darrell Grant, Mel Brown and so many others. Jazz is one of the reasons I love this city.