In its 11th year the 2014 Portland Jazz Festival provided a cross section of the jazz world during the 11-day event (which frustratingly is always somehow scheduled simultaneously with the Portland International Film Festival). It was officially known as the U.S. Bank Portland Jazz Festival, presented by Alaska Airlines. There were ten major events plus a dizzying variety of other jazz events in events all over the city. There were also a series of Jazz Conversations, which were free to attend, and special workshops held by the celebrity performers at some of the schools in Portland.
The jazz ensemble Oregon was named this year’s Portland Jazz Masters in their first Festival appearance. Bassist Glenn Moore (who plays barefoot) founded the group over 30 years ago and is based here in Portland. Guitarist Ralph Towner resides in Rome, and the other two members are widely separated. Their concert at the Lewis & Clarke Music Building was a fine opportunity for their many fans who had not heard them live for decades. They performed several selections from their latest album and concluded with a rousing version of the familiar Native American “Whichi Tai To.”
Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra kept a captivated audience entranced at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall the evening of February 28. His 15-piece big band included some previous members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the band did a program divided between charts for that organization and for those of the Count Basie Band. They played with great accuracy, style and verve, and a surprise was the excellent vocal solo by one of the band’s trombonists during the concert.
Still extremely vital at age 83, pianist Ahmad Jamal entertained with his trio at the Newmark Theater on February 21. He moved between lovely melodic work and sometimes frenzied moments in his interpretation of several jazz trio standards, as well as originals. Formerly local favorite Esperanza Spalding on vocals and double bass, returned with the Spring Quartet. It featured drummer Jack DeJohnette and saxist Joe Lovano, They performed at the Newmark Theatre on February 23 and were immediately sold out.
Other local favorites included vocalist Linda Hornbuckle, who performed a night of “old school soul” at Jimmy Mak’s jazz club on February 28th. Saxist Renato Caranto and singers Andy Stokes and Lady A joined her usual band. Peter Krebs and his Portland Playboys drew on midcentury country music and jazz for an evening at the Secret Society Ballroom on February 28th.
Bassist Buster Williams has been a sideman to Miles Davis and Art Blakey but at his Portland outing he led his own “Something More” group which included Bennie Maupin, Julian Preister, George Colligan and Cindy Blackman-Santana. Vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant opened the show.
Bob Mintzer and the PDX Jazz All-Star plus the Educator Septet appeared at Jimmy Mak’s Tuesday night February 25th. Mintzer is the famous saxophonist with the long-time-running Yellowjackets, and the Educator Septet was local students who guested with him and their teachers for a friendly battle of the bands. The Yellowjackets also gave a separate concert, their first appearance in Portland in nearly a dozen years.
There were several solo piano performances at the lovely little concert hall of Classic Pianos on Milwaukee. Among them were Janice Scroggins, Geoffery Keezer, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Aaron Diehl and Dan Tepfer. Dan’s appearance was tied-in with release of his solo album Goldberg Variations/ Variations, which has his faithful interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations alongside his own improved variations on Bach’s theme.
Another Portland jazz musician, David Valdez, appeared with his quintet and Tom Periera at the Camellia Lounge on February 28. The two saxists and the rest of the band paid homage to the 1959 album Cannonball & Coltrane, which had shown what Adderley and John Coltrane could do without Miles Davis.
Portland pianist, composer and jazz professor Darrell Grant performed his original work The Territory, which had been premiered earlier in the year. Joe Locke was the superb vibist in the suite, and Marilyn Keller was the vocalist. Commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest, the nine-movement piece blended improvisation and composition, drawing on Oregon’s historical (and not all positive) heritage. Cellist Hamilton Cheifetz was an interesting addition to some of the sections. This performance was at the Winningstad Theater on February 21.
Also at that location was the duo of David Frishberg and the 90-year-old Bob Dorough on February 23. They had done an appearance together many years ago named “Who’s On First,” and also appeared with singer Blossom Dearie. The title refers not to the Abbott & Costello sketch about baseball but to a light-hearted bit about which of the two singer-jazz-pianist-composers would be on the stage first. Dorough is a total kick with his unusual voice and delivery, and he kept things going with some great two-piano instrumentals when Frishberg forgot some of his lyrics. Ellington’s “Tonk” was a masterpiece.
Pat Metheny has a new jazz quartet he calls the Unity Group, and appeared at the Newmark Theater on March 2. The Grammy-winning guitarist, composer and educator did several tunes from his recent album with the group, and then devoted most of the second half to some of his Orchestrion gadgets that filled the stage and were operated by his guitar. There were also some fine duos with Metheny and one of the other members of the Unity Group, such as saxist Chris Potter. The general tenor of the other tunes were loud and fast fusion.
Other top jazz artists who performed at the Festival included pianist Helen Sung (who sat in on the encore at the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra concert), Bobby Watson, Tord Gustavsen’s Quartet, young saxist Grace Kelly, Toshiko Akiyoshi’s Trio with Lew Tabackin, Brian Blade, Buster Williams, James Carter, and Greta Matassa. A few of the local jazz performers who appeared at various clubs and restaurants in Portland during the Festival included Ron Steen, Dan Balmer, Greg Goebel, Mike Horsfall, Nancy King, John Stowell, Devin Phillips, Tom Grant, Rebecca Kilgore, Gordon Lee, Andre St. James, Tony Pacini, Mike Pardew, Dave Captein, Michael Allen Harrison, John Nastos, and The Kora Band.