New frontiers in jazz
Montavilla Jazz Festival started as a neighborhood project founded by two jazz musicians, a graphic designer, and a community activist, whose collective mission was to build an audience for jazz in their community by putting on a festival that would attract local artists of the highest distinction and excite the most sophisticated jazz fans, and in turn enhance and enrich the lives of Montavilla residents.
Do you recall the first time you discussed the idea of starting a neighborhood based jazz festival?
I can’t remember the exact time or circumstances where and when the idea was first discussed, but it was a couple of years before the first festival. It was Fritz [Hirsch] who had the initial idea. His concept was to launch a jazz festival (we’re both jazz fans) in his neighborhood, Montavilla. He felt that Montavilla had a lot to offer, yet it seemed to be considerably less well appreciated than other neighborhoods in the city. I liked the idea of a festival and I thought that it would be great if it focused on the spectrum of the local jazz scene which seemed to be missed by other festivals in the city. I could see that there were festivals which focused on the very avant garde, free elements of the music and also the mainstream… but what about one which could be a sort of gathering place for creative musicians who play a brand of music somewhere between those two poles? A couple of years later, through Fritz’s acquaintance I was introduced to two local jazz musicians, Ryan Meagher and Neil Mattson who both had an interest in creating a new festival. Between those two, they had experience and connections that Fritz and I lacked and it was the combination of all of our talents that led to the genesis of the Montavilla Jazz Festival. The first historic meeting (of the minds!) of the four founders was at Beer Bunker, appropriately located on Stark Street in the heart of Montavilla.
Aaron is pretty much right on. The fact came to mind that places have jazz festivals, and those festivals are named after those places, so why not have a Montavilla Jazz Festival? One thing I do is see people doing things I’d like to do, and then I go about trying to do a custom version of what they do. It’s basically stealing, in a good way (that book, “Steal Like an Artist”). I also was interested in doing things to enrich my neighborhood. Aaron really expanded my mind about jazz, so I became very interested in jazz in the years prior to Montavilla Jazz Festival. I had also attended some really neat art and music events at Milepost 5, so I thought that venue would be a good place to do it. The Glisan area was also a place where people were starting to do experimental things, and was in some ways a more interesting area to me than other parts of the hood. I had the idea in 2010 (maybe earlier) but couldn’t do anything until I met Neil at an MNA meeting. Neil introduced Aaron and I to Ryan, then we met shortly after that in early 2014, at Beer Bunker like Aaron said.
Can you recall how you met Fritz and Aaron, and detail your first discussion with Fritz and Aaron about starting Montavilla Jazz Festival?
It has been several frenzied years now, but my recollection is that I stumbled upon this festival through a Facebook Messenger exchange with Neil Mattson. Tim Willcox had recently stirred up some energy in the Portland jazz community through a Facebook post that gained a lot of traction about collectivizing our resources. I was new to town and had also recently joined up with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE).
My recollection is that Neil reached out to me one evening because he had heard that there were some people in the Montavilla Neighborhood Association (MNA) that were interested in modern, progressive, and even avant-garde forms of jazz. He had heard that there were even rumblings of a possible jazz festival. He encouraged me to come to an MNA meeting in late 2013, to express interest from the PJCE and others in the Portland jazz community to have a local jazz festival of modern, creative, originally-composed music in the Montavilla neighborhood.
I attended that meeting, and at a later point in the evening I announced that I was in attendance to pursue the idea of a jazz festival in the Montavilla neighborhood because I had heard that there was interest. I remember, Fritz Hirsch, who was then chair of the neighborhood committee, being shocked.
As a result of that MNA meeting, Fritz and I agreed to meet a couple times to figure out what a jazz festival in a neighborhood context might look like. We met at Beer Bunker (where Montavilla Jazz Festival meetings are still sometimes held) and talked about roping in Aaron Hayman and Neil Mattson because of their love of local, boundary-pushing jazz and their individual skill sets. Aaron with his design/art and Neil with his community presence and credence he has as a musician. I remember the abject fear and delight of the day in early 2014 when we decided that “this is a thing we’re going to do,” at Beer Bunker. I am a big fan of taking risks, and I hope it shows in the way we program this festival, much less the way we formed it.
From its ambitious beginnings, the project has grown over six successful seasons and in 2017 incorporated as a charitable nonprofit organization that is working to build up and grow our community through jazz and provide funding for jazz education experiences for underserved students in Montavilla schools. Read more…
Board of Directors
Neil Mattson—Executive Director
Ryan Meagher—Programming Director
Aaron Hayman—Art Director
Kim Harrison—At Large Director
Hobie Bender—Bipartisan Cafe
Stephen E. Blackman—Brownstein Rask
Deborah DeMoss Smith—KMHD
Todd Dennis—East Glisan Pizza Lounge
Pete Emerson—Bipartisan Cafe
Darrell Grant—Portland State University
Fritz Hirsch—MJF founder
Don Lucoff—DL Music Media
Pancho Savery—Reed College
Mary-Sue Tobin—jazz artist-in-residence
Nicole McCabe—MTMS Jazz Band
Jeffrey Chilton—MTMS Jazz Band
Rick Gordon—sound engineer
David Kays—main stage manager
George Manley—front of house manager
Ryuu Joy—student stage manager
Deborah DeMoss Smith
S. Renee Mitchell