Throughout the summer our team met up with MJF 2019 artists at a few of our favorite neighborhood spots. This interview with Kerry Politzer took place at Fillmore Coffee, located at 201 NE Glisan Street in Montavilla, on June 14, 2019. Fillmore Coffee has supported Montavilla Jazz Festival as a Supporting Level sponsor since 2016.
Describe your connection to the Portland jazz scene and community.
I’ve been in Portland since 2011, and I’ve been teaching adjunct at Portland State since 2013. I teach improvisation and composition. So on that level, I feel like I’m trying to help the next generation of jazz musicians in Portland.
I also teach people outside of Portland State. I try to spread the love of music and jazz to a larger audience, and then I may try to put them on a mailing list or tell them about the local music scene. So that’s one way in which I’m trying to engage and expand the jazz community of Portland.
I’m also in the pool of jazz musicians that work with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble. They are so focused on local and original music, which is great. It’s really nice to have support for more of the local scene rather than just an occasional performance.
Describe the project you’re bringing to Montavilla Jazz Festival 2019.
I’m really excited about this project. In March, I received a RACC grant to explore the music of Brazilian guitarist-composer Durval Ferreira, who died in 2007. The first part of the project involved doing a lot of research and transcription, and the second part, which you will hear, involved original arrangements and compositions written in the style of the composer. I did a kind of re-imagining of Ferreira’s work. He operated at the intersection of bebop and bossa nova, and his music is really compelling. So that’s the story behind the project.
Which artists are you excited to hear at MJF 2019?
Of course, George! He’s always worth listening to in any capacity, and Sherry’s a wonderful singer. I love having George in my band on drums; people will hear him in two capacities at the festival. He’s a world-class pianist and composer. And Charlie Porter is great, and Ez’s big band is always wonderful and inspiring to see. Mel Brown is a legend.
What is your favorite Montavilla business?
I have to say Fillmore, where we are having this wonderful snack, of course. I love the avocado bagels. I’ve been coming here ever since it opened; the owner, Tim Willcox, is a great saxophonist/composer, and his daughter goes to my older son’s school.
Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians that might be reading this?
There’s something that’s been on my mind. I’ve been having conversations lately with people about consumerism, and the dog-eat-dog world. It’s very competitive. But music is almost like music is an antidote to this kind of stuff. You can’t really buy the process of making music. It is really inspiring and healing, and it’s something that nobody can take away from you. So if you learn how to make music, you’ll have that with you for your entire life. And so if you’re kind of getting sucked up into this whole competitive thing with social media and everything, one way you can be authentic and true to yourself is to learn how to make music. Make the music that you love, and you’ll always have that in the face of all of these societal pressures.
I’m not impervious to these feelings, but I have the ability to sit at home, try to improve, and to try to do something that I feel is beautiful.
What’s your take on the current state of the jazz and creative music scene in Portland?
Well, there’s the good and the bad. As you know, several years ago we lost a lot of venues;. I think there was one year. we lost like 10. I think that may have been the year before you guys started your festival. I’m hoping that festivals like yours will build more interest in the music and show people that this is a really vital and important music and that live music is really important. You would think in it a town that prides itself on more “retro” and “do-it-yourself” values, that live music would be more important. I’m glad that the Montavilla Jazz Festival is working so hard on educating young and new listeners.
I will say that I’m grateful for The 1905; it’s a wonderful gathering place for artists and listeners alike. And in Montavilla, there’s Vino Veritas, which has a great line-up of musicians (and terrific grilled tartines).
Can you share any thoughts about Mel Brown and Gordon Lee and their contributions to Portland jazz during their careers?
Coming to Portland, Mel was one of the first people mentioned to me, and I have had the wonderful opportunity to hear him on several occasions. It’s great that he’s so vital and continuing to perform, and it’s really inspiring to see people just play music for their whole lives. And I just got to hear Gordon up close at a Vino Veritas gig, so that was a lot of fun. They should have a great set at Montavilla.
Photography by Kathryn Elsesser.