For the love of jazz: Commissioner Nick Fish’s lasting legacy – By Marcia K. Hocker

For the love of jazz: Commissioner Nick Fish’s lasting legacy – By Marcia K. Hocker

The late Commissioner Nick Fish said, “I have always believed that government can be society’s greatest force for good and that together we can do amazing things. As a member of the Council, I have insisted that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, and I have focused on partnership, collaboration and shared success. We can rise to this occasion and embrace inclusivity, sustainability and shared prosperity for all.” 

Nick won many awards during his twelve years on the Portland City Council including three from the arts community. They include the Angel Award from White Bird, the Community Partner Award from Metropolitan Youth Symphony and the McClendon Makarounis Award for Jazz Advocacy from PDX Jazz. He raised funds for and attended the Mount Hood Jazz Festival, PDX Jazz Festival, and Montavilla Jazz Festival in addition to Jazz concerts in Portland parks even though his demanding schedule often only allowed him to attend one or two sets. 

Recognizing that he was a champion for the Jazz community, he was given the title of “Portland’s Jazz Commissioner” by veteran Jazz Radio Host, Marcia Hocker. She was convinced to do so after he spontaneously joined her Monday 6-8pm show during one of KMHD’s membership drives. At that time, they were then located at Mt. Hood Community College. Nick told his wife, Portland State University Professor Patricia Schechter that one of his special Jazz experiences was “spending deejay time with Marcia on her program.” Nick revealed that he fell in love with Jazz when he heard the iconic Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson during a visit to Ireland.”

The United Nations Education and Science Cultural Organization-UNESCO, believes the culture of Jazz breaks down barriers and creates opportunities for mutual understanding and tolerance. It is a vector for freedom of expression, unity and peace while reducing tensions between individuals, groups and communities. Jazz fosters gender equality encouraging artistic innovation and improvisation while empowering young people from marginalized communities.

In alignment with these values, the mission of Montavilla Jazz, a nonprofit 501©3 organization, is to support and strengthen local music culture and enrich our community by showcasing the best of Portland talent.

In recognition of the enormous, enthusiastic contribution from Nick Fish, the Montavilla Jazz Festival will present, for the first time, the Nick Fish Jazz Community Award to Ron Steen in celebration of their tenth anniversary. This will take place on Saturday, September 2, 2023, at the Alberta Rose Theatre.

Submitted by: Marcia K. Hocker, a Montavilla Jazz Board Member and radio host currently on KBOO Community Radio 90.7 FM with Jazz Lives! which airs on alternate Wednesdays from 12:08-2 PM. George E. Hocker, Jr. was the Public Advocate for Commissioner Fish for six and a half years.

Ron Steen: In service to the community – By Lynn Darroch

Ron Steen: In service to the community – By Lynn Darroch

In 1983, the jazz drummer and bandleader Ron Steen defined his entire career in one sentence:

“The only goal I have,” he said, “is to play some honest, true music.”

And he has, whether on the road with jazz legends such as Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw, or in Portland with visiting artists that have included 20th century masters Dexter Gordon, Bobby Hutcherson, and Eddie Harris.   But for most of his career, Steen has played that honest, true music with his highly skilled Portland colleagues — a community he helps to sustain through the jam sessions he has led without interruption for 40 years. 

It’s for such contributions that he is receiving the inaugural Nick Fish Jazz Community Award from the Montavilla Jazz Festival. He’ll be presented the award in a brief ceremony before Darrell Grant’s “Pianos in the Dark” concert at the Alberta Rose Theatre on September 2, 2023.

That may be the crowning accolade for a drummer who received a “Portland Jazz Master” award from PDX Jazz in 2021, is a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and the Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Fame, and was named the 2020 Portland Jazz Hero by the Jazz Journalists Association.

Those honors all paid tribute to the impact he’s had on the local scene — an impact that goes far beyond his superb musicianship.

Portland has a remarkably active jazz scene for a city of its size and distance from the centers of cultural power. And though he is quick to deflect attention from his achievements and credit his colleagues, Ron Steen has played a leading tole in maintaining that status.

Because at the heart of every vibrant jazz scene is a jam session — a place where established musicians can try new things and interact with peers, while younger and aspiring players can test their readiness and learn from experienced artists. 

And every successful session needs a leader like Steen, who knows the community and whose voice is respected. The sessions he leads — currently three a week — are a model of inclusivity and an opportunity, he says, “for people to come and express themselves.”

Steen, who was born in 1949, was brought up in that tradition by supportive musicians from Portland’s first Golden Age of jazz in the 1940s and ‘50s. 

“We’d wait for hours just to get to sit in,” he recalls. But it wasn’t time wasted.

“You get to listen to guys who are better than you,” he explains. “And the ‘hang’ is just as important as the music. It’s not music school. It’s a cultural thing.”

That cultural information was passed along by the many veterans he worked with, like the bassist Omar Yeoman, whose advice ranged from the sartorial to the musical.

“‘Look at how I look, man,’ he’d say. ‘I’ve got this suit, and you look all raggedy,’” Steen recalls. 

“He also told me, ‘Stop thinking! When you’re thinking, you’re dragging. You’re supposed to just play!’”

Steen laughs, both with chagrin at the inexperienced player he was and with joy for lessons so freely given. And even though conditions have changed drastically since he first sat in at the Upstairs Lounge at age 16, he strives to keep that tradition alive.

Primarily through jam sessions.

Over the years, they helped develop a number of artists who have gone on to wider recognition, including international trumpet star Chris Botti, former Wynton Marsalis bassist and Juilliard instructor Ben Wolfe, and current Portland residents George Mitchell, who tours with Diana Ross, and bassist Phil Baker, a member of Pink Martini.

In 2005, Steen expanded his sessions to include a Singers Jam, where a set with the night’s featured vocalist is followed by an opportunity for other singers to sit in.

That decision owes a lot to the impact of two vocalists on his career. First, the singer/pianist Terri Spenser gave young Steen his first big break when she took him from busboy to musician at the Benson Hotel.

“I met her when I was 17,” he remembers. “She was having a party at her house in Lake Oswego  … i’d never met anybody like that; she was beautiful and intellectual and so gracious, it was like meeting Jackie Kennedy! But she heard me sitting in and hired me … and then we were working at the Benson Hotel — where I was a busboy! 

“I never did another job besides music after that. And it’s always been jazz.” 

The vocalist who most directly inspired his singers sessions, however, was the late Armonia Gilford. They are a way of honoring her memory.

“She was a fledgling vocalist when she started,” he recalls, “but she refused to accept that singers are anything less than other musicians. I was guilty of that myself,” he adds. “But half the population are women, and women are the majority of jazz singers. And that’s a good thing!” He laughs. “You don’t want a whole lot of masculine energy up there. And why segregate ourselves by gender?”

Or by generation — another chasm his jam sessions are designed to bridge. And they’re a way to give younger musicians the kind of boost he received.

“My generation had it much easier than kids in their 20s today,” he says, “because some of the gigs are paying the same as when I was coming up. They can work two gigs seven nights a week, and they’re still not able to pay off student loans, and they have to have roommates just to make the rent … In the 1980s, a jazz musician could afford to buy a house in Portland.

“I wish it was feasible to hire more younger players,” he says.

But he’s trying to make up for that by at least offering them musical opportunities similar to those he received.

In addition, the jam sessions are a way for him to discover young, upcoming artists who he then hires for the Singers Jams. “It’s a way to share the wealth, and a way to keep it fresh for me, too,” adds the congenial and supportive host.  

But in the end, as in the beginning, he’s doing it for the music.

“I feel extremely privileged to have the ability to play jazz,” he says. “I’ll never have enough time to repay all the joy I’ve felt being involved in this art form. There’s no greater honor than being able to carry it on.”

By Lynn Darroch

Portland’s most adventurous jazz festival turns 10 with a three-day event spanning five venues and 11 concerts showcasing the city’s world-class musicians.

Portland’s most adventurous jazz festival turns 10 with a three-day event spanning five venues and 11 concerts showcasing the city’s world-class musicians.

Photos are available


Portland’s most adventurous jazz festival turns 10 with a three-day event spanning five venues and 11 concerts showcasing the city’s world-class musicians. 

PORTLAND, Ore.—At the leading edge of Portland’s jazz scene, Montavilla Jazz’s 10th Annual Festival will run September 1–3, 2023 with concerts across the city featuring original jazz by world-class local artists. This year, the festival highlights some of Portland’s jazz scene-makers with internationally-acclaimed drummer Alan Jones headlining the festival Sunday evening with his quartet featuring Grammy Award-winners Tivon Pennicott and Kevin Hays. Pianist Darrell Grant performs Saturday night with a one-night-only project: Piano in the Dark with special guest, and another Grammy winner, Billy Childs, as well as four local keyboardists of note. The 2023 festival’s footprint continues to expand with two concerts at the Alberta Rose Theatre, three at The 1905, and, for the first time, two free outdoor concerts at Mt. Tabor Park while maintaining a home base at the Montavilla neighborhood’s Portland Metro Arts.

The locally-based jazz festival begins at Mt. Tabor Park with a world premiere of Views of an Urban Volcano, a three-part commission inspired by the concert’s location on Portland’s beloved extinct cinder cone-turned-greenspace. The concert also celebrates Montavilla Jazz’s decade of partnership with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble which will perform the new works. Opening the event will be Vestal Stories: Mary-Sue Tobin Sextet, a project developed collaboratively during Tobin’s tenure this spring as Montavilla Jazz’s artist-in-residence at Vestal Elementary School. 

Montavilla Jazz Festival is the only local festival focused on Portland-based musicians’ original compositions. Headliner Alan Jones shares, “It’s really a great honor to be a headliner at the festival. The festival is something the Portland community can be very proud of — it’s really a special situation, especially for us local musicians.”  

Montavilla Jazz Executive Director Neil Mattson shares, “It is incredible how far we have come in 10 years of making space for Portland’s local jazz artists. Montavilla Jazz’s formula has always been simple — we invest in local artists and invite them to carry out their dream projects. It’s a simple idea, but we continue to be astounded by the way these musicians take risks and innovate. This year’s artist-centered programming represents the dynamism and diversity of our community’s creative spirit. We can’t wait to see what happens over the next ten years as Montavilla Jazz continues to push artists to dream big and welcome new listeners into the jazz fold.”

Friday, September 1–Sunday, September 3, 2023

Mt. Tabor Park Caldera Amphitheater
Friday, September 1 ONLY

The 1905* (830 N Shaver St, Portland, OR 97227)
Friday, September 1–Sunday, September 3

Portland Metro Arts* (9003 SE Stark St, Portland, OR 97216) ON SALE NOW
Saturday, September 2 & Sunday, September 3

Alberta Rose Theatre (3000 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR 97211)
Saturday, September 2 & Sunday, September 3

Vino Veritas Wine Bar and Bottle Shop (7835 SE Stark St, Portland, OR 97215)
Friday, September 1–Sunday, September 3

*The concerts at Portland Metro Arts and The 1905 will also be live-streamed.

$5-45 per live concert with discounts for advance purchases, students, and Arts for All available for some concerts. On Sale Now: Portland Metro Arts single tickets ($25-30) and limited weekend passes for Saturday and Sunday performances at Portland Metro Arts and full festival passes ($80-197). Livestreams will be offered for free with a suggested donation of $5.

Find ticket details and information at montavillajazz.org.

The 2023 Montavilla Jazz Festival events include: 

  • Alan Jones Quartet featuring Tivon Pennicott, Kevin Hays and Joe Martin
    Sunday, September 3, 2023, 8:00 PM – Alberta Rose Theatre – Tickets $5-45
    Festival headliner Alan Jones assembles a dream team of award-winning talent for a concert of original music designed to inspire and challenge. 
  • Darrell Grant’s Piano in the Dark with special guest Billy Childs
    Saturday, September 2, 2023, 8:00 PM – Alberta Rose Theatre – Tickets $5-45
    Chasing the magic of the unexpected, Darrell Grant curates ephemeral encounters at and beyond the keyboard melding tradition and innovation.
  • Views of an Urban Volcano with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble
    Friday, September 1, 2023, 7:30 PM – Mt. Tabor Park Caldera Amphitheater – FREE!
    Composers Cyrus Nabipoor, Kirsten Volness, and James Powers premiere new jazz inspired by Portland’s beloved greenspace and extinct cinder cone, Mt. Tabor Park, performed by Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s 12-member band.
  • Vestal Stories: Mary-Sue Tobin Sextet
    Friday, September 1, 2023, 6:00 PM – Mt. Tabor Park Caldera Amphitheater – FREE!
    Celebrating where we come from and the joy around us, this project is the culmination of a collaboration between Montavilla Jazz, Portland State University’s Artist as Citizen Initiative, and Vestal Elementary.
  • Tim Willcox Quartet featuring Chuck Israels
    Sunday, September 3, 2023, 5:00 PM – Portland Metro Arts – Tickets $5-30
    Tim Willcox’s saxophone “sings and, at times, broods passionately and inventively” into the original works of his ensemble of local heavyweights.
  • Ryan Meagher, Ralph Alessi, Peter Epstein, and Mark Ferber
    Saturday, September 2, 2023, 5:00 PM – Portland Metro Arts – Tickets $5-30
    Prominent Portland guitarist Ryan Meagher assembles a team of eminent improvisers to mine their decade-long creative relationships.
  • Domo Branch and Branchin’ Out
    Sunday, September 3, 2023, 2:00 PM – Portland Metro Arts – Tickets $5-30
    Branch and company are on a mission to heal, motivate, and inspire through the trance of original and arranged music.
  • George Colligan: The Phyllis Wheatley Project featuring Zyanna
    Saturday, September 2, 2023, 2:00 PM – Portland Metro Arts – Tickets $5-30
    Phyllis Wheatley was the first African American poet to be published in the United States. George Colligan sets her poetry to music.
  • Nicole McCabe Quartet
    Saturday, September 2, 2023, 11:30 PM – The 1905 – Tickets $15, available soon
    McCabe’s Los Angeles-based band plays music from her recent album Landscapes released on the Spanish label Fresh Sounds New Talent.
  • Charlie 3rown Quartet
    Friday, September 1, 2023, 11:30 PM – The 1905 – Tickets $15, available soon
    Riding the edge of multiple genres, the Charlie 3rown Quartet’s creations use their diverse experiences and influences to take listeners to the brink.
  • Frank Irwin’s Aurora Septet
    Sunday, September 3, 2023, 11:00 PM – The 1905 – Tickets $15, available soon
    Blending chamber orchestration with improvisation and modal groove, Aurora Septet paints a beautiful landscape of self-discovery.
  • MJF Student Stage
    Friday, September 1, 4:00 PM; Saturday, September 2 & Sunday, September 3, 2023, 4-6 PM – Vino Veritas Wine Bar and Bottle Shop – FREE
    Breakout university students take center stage. 

The complete festival lineup and schedule is available at https://montavillajazz.org/.  



About Montavilla Jazz: The mission of Montavilla Jazz is to support and strengthen local music culture and enrich our community by showcasing the best of Portland jazz. Montavilla Jazz is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.


Two jazz organizations explore the cultural, civic, and ecological history of Mt Tabor Park in Views of an Urban Volcano

Two jazz organizations explore the cultural, civic, and ecological history of Mt Tabor Park in Views of an Urban Volcano

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Two jazz organizations explore the cultural, civic, and ecological history of Mt Tabor Park in Views of an Urban Volcano

(Portland, OR) — Montavilla Jazz and Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble are opening up a community-guided creative process to the public as three composers craft new music inspired by Mt. Tabor Park and the stories that surround it. Three public events for Views of an Urban Volcano will take place Sunday, March 5th at 2 pm Oregon Historical Society; Saturday, March 18th at 4 pm at Taborspace’s Copeland Commons; and Saturday, April 15th at 10:30 am at Mt. Tabor Park, inviting participants to learn more about Mt. Tabor’s history in relationship to marginalized communities past and present and its significance as a greenspace in the city.

Three composers that are currently being selected through panel review will attend each of these community events to build a shared understanding of this iconic park’s role in the city. Their new works for the 12-member Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE) will be presented as part of the 2023 Montavilla Jazz Festival in a free, public concert at Mt. Tabor Park on September 1, 2023. The concert represents the culmination of 10 years of partnership between Montavilla Jazz and PJCE. Views of an Urban Volcano is presented in partnership with Friends of Mt. Tabor Park and the Oregon Historical Society with support from Oregon Cultural Trust and Regional Arts and Culture Council.

Community Event Details: 

  • Views of an Urban Volcano: A discussion on Mt. Tabor Park
    March 5th, 2023, 2–3:30 pm at Oregon Historical Society *FREE*
    1200 SW Park Ave. Portland, OR 97205
    (503) 222-1741
    Find more information and RSVP here.
    The event features a panel discussion on the history and impacts of Mt. Tabor Park from the perspectives of Portland’s Chinese, Black, and Indigenous communities from 1896–2020. Light refreshments will be available. 

Panelists include Hap Pritchard, Board Member, Friends of Mt. Tabor Park; David Harrelson, Cultural Resources Department manager and member of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde; Darrell Millner, Professor Emeritus of Black Studies at Portland State University; and Dr. Marie Wong, Professor Emerita, Seattle University Institute of Public Service, Asian Studies, and Public Affairs.

  • Views of an Urban Volcano: Community Forum
    March 18th, 2023, 4–5 pm at Taborspace’s Copeland Commons *FREE*
    5441 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97215
    (503) 954-2610
    Find more information and RSVP here.
    An open forum for lovers of Mt. Tabor Park to share their own stories about its significance with the composers. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet the selected composers and project leads, and contribute to the community-driven creative process.  
  • Views of an Urban Volcano: Guided Tour of Mt. Tabor Park
    April 15, 2023, at 10:30 am at Mt. Tabor Park Visitor Center *FREE*
    SE Salmon Way and, SE Park Dr, Portland, OR 97215 Map
    Find more information and RSVP here.
    Led by Friends of Mt Tabor Park, this 90-minute guided tour of the park will begin at the Mt. Tabor Visitor Center and highlight historical and cultural points of interest and the park’s impressive vistas. Participants should dress for the weather and bring their questions. 


March 5th Event Speaker Bios: 

David Harrelson is the Cultural Resources Department manager for The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde where he is also a tribal member.  David is active in his community and currently serves as an Oregon Arts Commissioner.  Working for over ten years in the field of Cultural Resources, David has championed the protection of archaeology sites, maintenance of ancestral lifeways, and proliferation of indigenous art forms throughout his Tribe’s homelands in Western Oregon.

Dr. Darrell Millner graduated in 1975 from the University of Oregon with a doctorate in Education and was then hired by Portland State University to teach Afro-American Literature and History in the Black Studies Department. Dr. Millner served as Department Chair of Black Studies from 1984-1995, and is currently Professor Emeritus and continues to teach as an adjunct faculty member in the department. He serves on numerous local, regional, and national boards and organizations. Dr. Millner is an expert on the history of African-Americans in the western movement with a special focus on the Oregon and California trail experiences, early Oregon and California black history, and the history of the Black Buffalo soldiers in the Indian wars.

Hap Pritchard and his wife moved to the Portland area in 2004 to be close to their two children and their grandchildren. The move coincided with his retirement from a career at the EPA and a final three-year stint at the Danish National Environmental Research Laboratory where he was a senior research fellow.

Dr. Marie Rose Wong is a Professor Emerita with the Institute of Public Service at Seattle University. Wong’s research investigates urban planning and policy, housing, and land use with a focus on Asian American settlements.  Her presentations and publications center on Asian American history and urban development that include several articles, a book on Portland, Oregon’s first Chinese communities entitled Sweet Cakes, Long Journey: The Chinatowns of Portland, Oregon (2004, 2012), and the history of Seattle’s Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino settlement entitled Building Tradition: Pan-Asian Seattle and Life in the Residential Hotels (2018). She is currently working on book projects that chronicle the histories of Seattle’s Japanese American community baseball, and Seattle’s Luck Ngi Chinese Music Club.

About Montavilla Jazz: Montavilla Jazz is a nonprofit community organization that engages an inclusive cross-section of musicians, collaborative artists, students, music lovers, neighbors, and businesses, promoting forward-thinking artistry and offering platforms for risk-taking, experimentation, and the creation of new works, adding to the diversity and strength of our community.

About PJCE: Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create original jazz music that engages and supports our community’s diverse artists, cultures, and place. In operation since 2008, PJCE is the only organization dedicated to commissioning and performing original music by Portland musicians, building a broad audience through unique, collaborative and community-oriented programming that builds bridges between communities in this vibrant city.