Jazz in Portland

by Lynn Darroch

Maybe it’s something in the water — or just all the water everywhere — that makes jazz in Portland as distinct as its landscape and culture. Whether the style is gypsy swing or avant-garde, chamber, funk or straight-ahead, this rainy city has shaped its music just as Southern California or the Mississippi Delta influenced music made there.

Jazz in Portland grew up far from centers of influence and power, in a deepwater port with rough and tumble origins, a small African-American population, and an economy shaped by the water and mountains that surround it. The scene developed slowly in the 1930s, then exploded in the 1940s, when work in the shipyards and other wartime industries brought thousands of African Americans to the area and the entertainment district they created along Williams Avenue became the catalyst for a distinct Portland approach — a cooperative scene where craft is respected and history honored, young talent nurtured, and nice guys often finish first.

Over time, a certain kind of artist has chosen to settle or remain here, often those who value the isolation and independence it offers, the do-it-yourself attitude it encourages, and the easy access to the natural world. Of course artists in Portland are influenced by music made elsewhere and work within a tradition that originated in other places. And musicians who migrated to the city have also brought outside influences.

But not everyone chooses to come. And those you work with everyday leave the deepest mark. So whether they are immigrant or native born, it’s the values Portland artists share that have determined the character of this jazz scene.

“You can’t stay here if you’re ever going to make it big,” said trumpeter Floyd Standifer, who grew up in Gresham and later worked with Quincy Jones. “But if you’re looking for someplace where life can mean something, you come here.”

Montavilla, Portland, Oregon, USA

Welcome to Montavilla! Yes, it’s prounced “monta-villa” which rhymes with “zilla”. Montavilla is a syllabalic abreviation of Mt. Tabor Village. 

The name “Montavilla” originated from the abbreviations used on the streetcar destination signs when streetcars served the area starting in 1892. The name was first abbreviated as “Mt. Ta. Villa”, then later as “Monta.Villa”. Residents soon adopted the latter name for the neighborhood, written as Montavilla. Streetcar service to Montavilla ended in 1948 (from Wikipedia, read more).

More links:

OregonLive: Portland neighborhood named one of the top 10 to visit in the country 

The Tragic Story of the Montavilla Neighborhood in PDX

This East Portland district features family-friendly shops, tasty treats and a historic movie theater.

Where to Drink and Dine in Historic Montavilla

Montavilla Neighborhood Association

Community & Civic Life



Board of Directors

Neil Mattson—Executive Director
Marcia Hocker—Vice President
Nancy Mitchell—Secretary
Steve Mitchell—Treasurer
Kim Harrison
Aaron Hayman
Katherine Sharp

Resource Council

Stephen Blackman—Brownstein Rask
Donna Cruz-Moreno—PJCE

Douglas Detrick—Substrate Arts Consulting
Darrell Grant—PSU
Fritz Hirsch—IRCO
Don Lucoff—DL Music Media
Pancho Savery—Reed College
George Thorn—RACC