Jazz in Portland
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.”
Photo by Kathryn Elsesser.
Board of Directors
Neil Mattson—Executive Director/Chair
Hobie Bender—Bipartisan Cafe
Stephen Blackman—Brownstein Rask
Deborah DeMoss Smith—KMHD
Douglas Detrick—Substrate Arts Consulting
Pete Emerson—Bipartisan Cafe
Don Lucoff—DL Music Media
Pancho Savery—Reed College