Artist Spotlight: Ezra Weiss at Bipartisan Cafe

Artist Spotlight: Ezra Weiss at Bipartisan Cafe

Throughout the summer the our team met up with MJF 2019 artists at a few of our favorite neighborhood spots. This interview with Ezra Weiss took place at Bipartisan Cafe, located at 7901 SE Stark St., on June 14, 2019. Bipartisan Cafe has supported Montavilla Jazz Festival as a Festival Sponsor since 2014…


Describe your connection to the Portland jazz scene and community.

I moved here in 2001 right after finishing my studies at Oberlin. It’s been really neat to see the scene develop over the years. I used to go down to hear Mel Brown play at the original Jimmy Mak’s every Tuesday and Thursday night during my first year in Portland.


I never, back then, would have imagined that I’d be playing on the same festival as Mel. I feel very honored to be a part of this festival. Mel’s been a big influence on me. I’ve had a few chances to play with him over the years and that’s been really cool. I always get nervous and revert to being 22 years old. It’s really weird actually all of a sudden I forget how to play because I get so nervous. It’s been interesting seeing clubs come and go during that time though. Recently, seeing the younger jazz musicians coming up is really great.


Portland has a flourishing creative music and avant guard scene, as well as a straight ahead scene. I’ve been lucky to make friends in both. I’ve been blessed to work with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble and teach at Portland State University.

Describe the project you’re bringing to Montavilla Jazz Festival 2019.

Well, it is an original suite of songs and it’s the most personal piece I’ve ever written. It’s about being a dad in a time of political disaster. It’s written for big band and we’re celebrating the release of the album which was recorded at the first performance back in December of 2018 at the Alberta Abbey. The release date for the album, on Origin Records, is August 16th. I don’t think it’s going to be performed as a complete suite very often because it’s really challenging to perform logistically. This performance at Montavilla will probably be one of the only times we perform it in its entirety. I’m super excited and grateful for this opportunity.

Is there a story behind this project?

It was something I originally imagined in 2015. I got the RACC project grant to write it and then things politically in this country went south. That really affected the shape of the project. I probably wouldn’t even have attempted it if I had the idea after 2016, but because I already had the grant and the idea for it, I felt like I had to keep going in the face of it all.


I applied for a similar grant in 2015 but didn’t get it. I fixed the proposal and then the election happened. When I started writing it, I was still trying to make it work with the politics of 2015 because that’s what I had originally conceived. About part way through the process just stopped, it didn’t work anymore. I would hear all these voices in my head telling me all the things that didn’t work about it. Those voices in my head ended up becoming a part of the suite. There were all these issues that I felt I needed to be addressed, that I didn’t need to address in 2015, at least not in the same way. So that was a sort of revelation.


This is also the first I’ve written for my own big band and that was really exciting. Up till now I’ve always written for other people’s big bands. When you’re doing that–writing for more of a generic big band–you don’t think about the specific person that’s playing that part, you just think about the instrument. When I’m writing for my own big band I can write something that’s going to feature say, Renato Caranto, or something that’s going to allow John Savage to do his thing on flute. It totally opened up this whole new world for me as a composer.


I’ve come to realize it’s really special to get to do this again at Montavilla Jazz Festival, it’s one of the rare places where this kind of work does draw an audience. A lot of people I’ve talked to you now that the CD is out that say: “We think the CD is awesome, we’ll put it out there, but don’t get your hopes too high about how it’s going to do because people just don’t have the appetite for it, everyone’s kind of fatigued”. However, at Montavilla it’s a really special crowd that is seeking the music, seeking original things, seeking emotional stuff. That’s really cool. Montavilla is probably my favorite festival because of that.

Which artists are you excited to hear at MJF 2019?

All of them. I don’t know in reality how many I’ll make it to you because I’ll be stressing out about my big band and choir and making sure everybody shows up and all the parts are in order and stuff like that. I’ll probably be freaking out a little bit.


Some of the artists I know pretty well, some of them I don’t know. I’d love to hear all of them. Certainly Mel Brown and Gordon Lee with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, with Gordon doing the arrangements, that’s going to be cool. When I was younger, I took some lessons with Gordon. Mel and Gordon’s group the Mel Brown Septet had a real impact on me.

What is your favorite Bipartisan pie?

They have a strawberry rhubarb pie that is both my wife’s and my favorite. As a matter of fact, my wife and I had our first date here at Bipartisan Cafe a little over 10 years ago.

Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians that might be reading this?

Keep the music first. Don’t play for applause because you have no control over whether someone will like what you’re doing. You have to make music that is important to you. and it takes a long, long time to develop that. There is an Ira Glass quote that I’ll paraphrase, it’s basically this: “You’re going to be disappointed in yourself for a while before you make any art that you feel good about and you just have to allow yourself to experience that”. If you can keep the music as the most important thing, then your ego will be able to handle that.

What’s your take on the current state of the jazz and creative music scene in Portland?

There are great musicians here making great music. The economics of it however are not sustainable in its current state. That’s one of the reasons that I appreciate Montavilla because musicians are actually getting paid and valued. I used to try to book as many gigs as I could. I basically stopped booking and have chosen to focus on teaching and writing for the most part because it’s not sustainable. There’s a lot of factors of why this is the case. We’re competing with Netflix, that’s one factor. Jazz is often times marketed like a history museum instead of like something new. I am all for history museums, but that doesn’t work for me because my music is not a history of music. Also, pop music reinforces people to like things they already like.


I feel that the jazz venue as a hang is less common. The 1905 is a hang, and some others, but too often there have been too many clubs where they book the artist for a night and they expect the artist to bring all their friends and family to their gig. The only people that are coming to the club are friends and family of the artist. That’s not sustainable. I’m not trying to dis current clubs. I’m speaking about the ecosystem. It’s not really anyone’s fault. It’s just this is what’s happened. It’s just turning out not to be sustainable.


If you want the club to be a hang, you need to be able to go to the club, not know who’s playing there, but know that you’re going to hear some good music and have a good experience. You can do that at The Village Vanguard in New York. I will happily go hear whoever is playing at the Village Vanguard tonight. I think the clubs need to invest in having a hang and allowing artists the opportunity to grow a hang.


The original Jimmy Mak’s was a hang. It was partly because Mel started with his Tuesday night band. Every Tuesday night people started coming in, but it started from nothing and then it gradually built, and built, and built, until they eventually out-grew the club.

Can you share any thoughts about Mel Brown and Gordon Lee and their contributions to Portland jazz during their careers?

I mentioned that I studied with Gordon, but in terms of their contributions to Portland Jazz, they have been at it for decades. Mel built up Jimmy Mak’s from a bar to a world-class music venue. And I remember the first time I came out to Portland, going to Jimmy Mak’s my first night in town, and hearing Thara Memory, Renato Caranto, Stan Bock,  Warren Rand, Gordon Lee, Andre St. James, and Mel Brown. Knowing that they were there every Tuesday night, I immediately said, “this is incredible, I’m going to go there every Tuesday night”. And I did. I would on Thursdays too, to hear Louis Pain, Dan Balmer, Renato, Stan, and Mel. Being able to hear them play that music live week-to-week over the course of years had a huge impact. It gave me a different sense that you don’t get from hearing those songs on the great records. Hearing Mel do some of those Art Blakey songs live every week, I got a different level of respect for the music.

Montavilla Jazz Festival 2019 Saturday Headliner
Ezra Weiss Big Band: We Limit Not the Truth of God (artist page)
Saturday, August 17, doors open: 7:55 p.m., set begins: 8:10 p.m.
Saturday Headliner Tickets, RSVP on Facebook!

Photography by Kathryn Elsesser.

Artist Spotlight: Dana Reason at Montavilla Sewing Centers

Artist Spotlight: Dana Reason at Montavilla Sewing Centers

Throughout the summer the our team met up with MJF 2019 artists at a few of our favorite neighborhood spots. This interview with Dana Reason took place at Montavilla Sewing Centers, located at 8326 SE Stark Street in Montavilla, on July 14, 2019. Montavilla Sewing Centers has supported Montavilla Jazz Festival as a Concert Level Sponsor since 2015…


Describe your connection to the Portland jazz scene and community.

I’ve come up to Portland several times working with Creative Music Guild’s Extradition Series and working with several of the different musicians that are involved with that organization, namely Michael Gamble, Matt Hannafin and Catherine Lee. Sometimes they get to come down to Corvallis and do gigs down there at Interzone Cafe, Site of Sound, OSU Noontime concerts, Bombs away, to name a few. It’s always been my hope that people coming in to our town can know that there’s another home base for them in Corvallis where they can play or crash at someone’s house. I always think of my involvement is larger than myself and my own work. We’re all working artists, we all wear many hats. So when there’s a possibility to share a gig or something like that or promote someone else’s work, I see it as my artistic responsibility to support my colleagues.


Before I moved to Oregon I was in San Diego and Los Angeles County area as well. I had an opportunity to come up to the Willamette Valley and I got the job teaching at Oregon State University in 2008.

Describe the project you’re bringing to Montavilla Jazz Festival 2019.

The title Torque Songs is sort of a play on “torch songs”. When we think about torch songs, we think about a kind of sentimentality around things, an emotional investment. I’m very interested in thinking about ways of representing female and female-identified voices in not only jazz music but in non-traditional experimental kinds of music. I see Torque Songs as an opportunity to give voice to the voiceless. Historically we’ve seen women in jazz music as piano players and singers, but maybe not as much as the lead improviser or the composer of a group. So I’m taking this opportunity to re-examine “torch” songs. Torque is a physical principle around centralization, and let’s say tension, but things move if we decentralize them, then the variability changes, the mechanism changes. I’m thinking about women’s work in particular, about torque––meaning there’s a bit of tension in torque––and what does that mean when women are no longer the muse, as they are in torch songs, where they are the subject written about as objects of feeling and sensing. We’re here at Montavilla Sewing Center today and it makes me think about threads. Female work or female-identified creativity is the backbone of many things that are not necessarily in your face, but quietly working. I think about the notion of changing things and there’s a lot of hope and optimism on that front as well.


Last summer I was commissioned to create An Apple for My Teacher with the Improvisers Summit of Portland (2018) and several of the performers [for Torque Songs: Holland Andrews, Alessa DeRubeis, John Savage, and artist Melody Owen] worked with me on that project. I like the idea of many voices on my projects. So I like to create templates for the musicians in my projects, but I also want to honor their practice in what I’m trying to do. So on stage we’ll have piano (myself), bass (Todd Sickafoose) and drums (James West), the nucleus is the piano trio, and then add to that a vocalist (Holland Andrews), guitar (Mike Nord) flute (John Savage) and also he’ll double on saxophone. We will play off those orchestral elements and have Alissa DeRubeis on her synthesizer with pre-made samples that I want her to have, and she will loop some things but then also modulate those with her synthesizer––she’s such a sensitive player. When we’ve worked together before I loved how she would understand when I wanted a space to grow and she was so tuned in to the organic way I work and write. It’s always a bit risky, you know, things are not completely teased out in my work because I like the idea of “the making of the now”. I really want to have those players be in that mindset. It’s not slick, I really like it a little bit gritty. I don’t have all the answers and I don’t think that the people playing with me have the answers. They have a lot of questions usually like, oh my gosh, is this really going to work out?


Visually I have two components. OSU art student, Paris Myers will have some premade animation material and she’s going to be using an iPad where she’s going to be drawing in real time over the animation. Artist Melody Owen, is also providing video art footage for visual remixing and I also have footage from a choreographer/dancer that I’ve worked with Paula Josa Jones and she will be lending her footage from some of the dance that she’s done called Fluid. We will be reimagining that as well. So cutting up some of that into the images and using those images in the animation. And again, we’re demonstrating women’s work, but we’re telling many stories. We’ll have quotes and stories that are processed through A.I. apps. We take text and reconfigure those texts (lyrics/text setting by Allison Layague) and we figure out what the lyrical mechanism is within the texts. One of the reasons I’m using that is because a lot of artists’ work is both carefully crafted and simultaneously open to serendipity. We don’t have a lot of control, we just know that we’re doing our work and hopefully the work can connect with people and kind of come full circle for me. Having a reception of the work creates that holistic sensibility for the artist. It gives the artist more courage to keep going. It’s like you throw a stone [into a body of water] and those ripples [resonate outward] and this is how I see the life of a working artist. So that’s why I like the idea of variables. So we think things are getting set in motion, but there’s always an opportunity for them to be shape-shifted. And again when Paris will be working live, she’ll also be digging in the sounds. So we’ll have opportunities to see the visuals as well and have moments in the work that we can respond accordingly. If someone is totally moved in that space, in that contingent moment, then they need to take that space and do a solo thing. So being sensitive to the temperature of the room all at all times. So different artists I’m culminating collaged text from include Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and the Bauhaus artist, Otti Berger, she used to touch fabrics because she had a sensitivity to the touching. We’re in the Sewing Center and thinking about the tactility of fabric and larger sensitivities in the moment.

Which artists are you excited to hear at MJF 2019?

I know Gordon Lee from playing piano because I actually went to him to do some private coaching with him. So I got some lessons from him on rethinking harmonizations. So that’s wonderful to see him there.


I heard Ezra’s music at Oregon State went Doug Detrick brought his project with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, Maxville to Vanport. I loved the harmonies that he writes and that’s a very beautiful band.


I know Wayne’s playing because he’s been down in Corvallis playing at Squirrels. It’s like a restaurant and club and a pretty funky space.


I just met George Colligan when I did a little workshop with ReSoundings Trio at Portland State University and I got to meet him and then of course right after, I went and watched a whole bunch of YouTubes of his playing because it’s always exciting to hear what people are doing.


And of course Mel Brown, I mean he’s a staple.

Talk about a little more about the connection of work to our sponsor here, Montavilla Sewing Center.

My mother’s mother came over from the Czech Republic and she used to actually make her own cloth out of flax, and literally loom the cloth and then do all the embroidery on the cloth. So I’ve got things from her like bed sheets with embroidered peacocks on them. I grew up around that knowing that her hands did a lot of things (family farming, building and sewing). For me, this is one way of demonstrating creativity. I was speaking with my mother and she said that my grandmother never used a pattern and basically sewed all her clothes. My mother didn’t know it know it was “high culture”, but my mother always had her own original clothing. It wasn’t seen like that, it was seen like making something from nothing right to survive as immigrants in Toronto, Canada. My mother herself sewed, she’d sew me all the Barbie clothes and I always had like little fancy fun things and she’d sew her own clothing as well. And then my husband’s family still has one of the oldest running bridal shops in downtown Toronto started in 1944 called Becker’s Bridal, and they have designed bridal gowns since the 1940s, family-run. So they have in their basement four-six sewing machines and their main floor is where you pick out the gowns. It’s the oldest running Bridal Shop in Canada still to this day.

Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians that might be reading this?

Well, I can say that sometimes it’s just a single meeting with someone maybe even in passing that gives a young person the courage to decide to continue with music. It can make a difference to help someone decide if it’s worth the time to save some money and get a new instrument, or support oneself with lessons.


When I was in high school band (I played trombone) we had a substitute teacher come in one day and said, who’s the piano player in this room? And it was me, apparently, and he wanted me to play. The next thing you know, he made a phone call to Interlochen Arts Academy, and said to me, you need to go there, this is where you need to be. It was a one-day substitute teacher. He just finished at Juilliard and came in and that chance one time meeting changed the direction of my life. I went to Interlochen.


So sometimes just getting the courage to say hello as a young person is what it takes. Or even for us mentors, our part is noticing a child/teen and going up to them and just saying hey I heard you playing, what are you thinking of doing? Because we don’t know what they’re hearing (encouragement, wise). So I think it’s our duty to see that the children get whatever they’re going to need in that moment. Just try to be open and help them and, you know, maybe we can help them find that new door or opening for them.

What’s your take on the current state of the jazz and creative music scene in Portland?

Well, I see it as something that’s going forward. I feel like there’s kind of a collective group of individuals that are sharing leadership roles and helping the community, like the Creative Music Guild, programming musicians who are coming through town and connecting those people with local performers. So in that way they are helping our local artists as well as promoting touring artists. So I feel that that’s really exciting. I think that it takes a lot of educating to get people to recognize that we need to help each other when we’re presenting individualized new works. This is how we build a future for the art. It’s how we build on the cultural understanding of what it means to be an artist in 2019. We’re the experts on living through this time period. We are directing the way we’re going to put sounds together. It’s like an archival historic snapshot sonically.

Can you share any thoughts about Mel Brown and Gordon Lee and their contribution to Portland jazz during his career?

I think that celebrating artists like Mel and Gordon that have been at this practice for a long time is really important for everyone to see and bear witness to that. You know, I like to think that we all write one song. We write one song and we make iterations, and if you follow the earlier work of artists you see that there’s some DNA that kind of follows up the work. So I’m really excited that the festival is noticing that we can all be part of that for inspiration, to think about what to do going forward, how to keep being awake for everyone that were working with, our neighbors, our communities, and looking for opportunities for each of us to do this next piece and be present with it. I’m excited.

Dana Reason: Torque Songs (artist page)
Saturday, August 17, doors open: 1:00 p.m., set begins: 4:10 p.m.
Saturday Day Passes, RSVP on Facebook!

Photography by Kathryn Elsesser.

Artist Spotlight: Kathleen Hollingsworth at Hungry Heart

Artist Spotlight: Kathleen Hollingsworth at Hungry Heart

Throughout the summer our team met up with MJF 2019 artists at a few of our favorite neighborhood spots. This interview with Kathleen Hollingsworth took place at Hungry Heart Bakery, located at 414 SE 80th Ave in Montavilla, on July 5, 2019. Hungry Heart has supported Montavilla Jazz Festival by providing wonderful desserts for our last two Season Reveal fundraisers…


Describe your connection to the Portland jazz scene and community.

Well, I came here to teach at Clackamas Community College when I got the full time position there. I had just come from Miami for three years where I was working on my jazz chops. So I came here to teach at Clackamas and then started going to jam sessions and meeting people, and now I’ve kind of established myself with my own band, writing music for PJCE. I’m definitely not a side-person, I’m not usually hired as a side person, I’m more of a front-person who writes and sings and plays. I’ve gotten to know people through my music but also through collaborating with PJCE, going to jam sessions and hanging out with people.

Describe the project you’re bringing to Montavilla Jazz Festival 2019.

Mad love is a band that performs mostly my own compositions and arrangements and we don’t generally do standards that much, that’s not what we do, things are more arranged and composed. I write a lot of music that is usually inspired somehow by nature or things I like to do in nature like riding which allows me to write. I love to write. If I weren’t a musician probably would have been an English major because I love writing. Writing lyrics over time has become my way to express how I see and feel in this realm. Putting the music together allows me to meld a lot of genres like jazz, from a harmonic perspective, and from a form perspective, but I’m definitely not straight ahead by any means. There’s some rock and little bit of country and a little bit of Americana all kind of fused in there.

Is there a story behind this project?

So when I first got here, I started playing with Brent Follis pretty early on like within the first two years we met. He just called me out of the blue and he said hey, I hear you’re looking for a drummer. So then we started playing in a duo at Nonna for a year or two. And in that time I really learned to trust him as a human being and as a musician we just had a vibe going.


Through that trust building process and through his allowance of my music to develop and the fact that he really likes my music, I decided to take it a little more seriously until I chill I gained enough trust with him that I started looking more seriously for bass player and then starting to think more about putting out another album with just this music. I started seriously looking for a bass player and then the name of the band came about pretty magically and so here we are.

Which artists are you excited to hear at MJF 2019?

All of them. Well, I’m psyched for Sherry that she’s at PSU. We kind of both did the same thing academically with taking the doctoral route. She sounds great. She’s doing the straight ahead thing and she sounds great with George (Colligan). I like it when people take time to really work up their stuff, you know, and it takes a long time to do a doctorate and it’s not easy.

Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians that might be reading this?

You know everyone should have some piano chops, all musicians, in addition to whatever instrument that happens to be your main instrument. All singers should have experience with the keyboard because everything is right there and it makes you confident to be able to speak the language. Everything is right there. And if you can understand that then theory is easy, communicating with the band is easy, writing becomes easier.


In this day and age for Millennials when everything is so easy because of technology, understand that one of the things that’s so brilliant about music is that it takes a long time. It takes time. It is an art that you craft over years and years. I don’t think that we value that as much, the younger generation, because everything so quick. They get everything at the touch of a button, you don’t download this, it’s really important and it takes time.


We want everything so fast and so quick now and the younger generation really needs to remember through ART we have longevity. Through music: dedication.

What’s your take on the current state of the jazz and creative music scene in Portland?

Thank God for PSU, and thank God for PJCE, and thank God for PDX Jazz and all these organizations that are really trying to keep things moving. And the nice thing is because Portland so hip right now a lot of people moving here from towns where you just can’t make it and survive as a jazz musician. Here you can sort of piece together a living as a musician. I think that there is actually a great audience here for jazz. There’s a great audience here in Portland for music in general. There’s so many times I go out and play and the audience is listening and attentive. Not always, but a lot of times there’s this vibe in Portland that is very attentive to art and creativity. So that’s a plus.


The million dollar question, that I continually ask myself is how do serve that audience, how do you keep them coming back? How do you push that compositional envelope so that people want to continue to hear you?

Can you share any thoughts about Mel Brown and Gordon Lee and their contributions to Portland jazz during their careers?

Oh man, it’s deep it’s meaningful. Those guys are the real deal, they’re playing the real deal and thank God for that, we need to hang on to that too. And that history is good for Portland is good for the scene to have all of that melded into the soup pot of jazz.


Whenever I hang out with Gordon, I love him. He’s the hang you know, and there’s always laughter, there’s always carrying-on. That sense of the hang is so important to this music. As somebody from through education world, I know that that connection that roots communication, that roots hang, if that’s not part of the music then everyone is a bunch of  jazz-holes, you know what I mean? You got to be fun to hang around, and those guys are.

Kathleen Hollingsworth: Mad Love (artist page)
Sunday, August 18, doors open: 1:00 p.m., set begins: 1:30 p.m.
Sunday Day Passes, RSVP on Facebook!

Photography by Kathryn Elsesser.

Artist Spotlight: Sherry Alves and George Colligan at Vestal School

Artist Spotlight: Sherry Alves and George Colligan at Vestal School

Throughout the summer our team met up with MJF 2019 artists at a few of our favorite neighborhood spots. This interview with Sherry Alves and George Colligan took place at Vestal School, located at 161 NE 82nd Ave in Montavilla, on June 21, 2019. Vestal School has partnered with Montavilla Jazz Festival since 2015, hosting our Jazz Artist-in-Residency pilot program in 2019…


Describe your connection to the Portland jazz scene and community.

SA: I’m from Oregon, but I spent a lot of time in the Salem area, performing teaching at Western Oregon University. I went to University of Northern Colorado for two years. And then before I finished my degree, I applied for the open position at Portland State. So, before I moved to Colorado, I did perform sometimes in Portland, and I have a lot of connections with Portland musicians, and I learned from Mel Brown and Gordon Lee, and Ed Bennett. Most recently my connection is as Professor at Portland State and right now I’m sort of in this funny, “in-between” where I’m I’m spending a lot of time at Portland State and spending a lot of time still trying to finish my own degree. So, my involvement with the Portland jazz scene is there, but it’s not what I want it to be. I just have a few things to finish. I think there’s there’s room for growth. But it’s nice to come home and be in the same town, not an hour south from all the people that I enjoyed working with before. It’s pretty exciting.


GC: Well, I grew up on the East Coast near Baltimore, in Columbia, Maryland, which was a progressive planned community. I started out as a classical trumpet player. Right now, I’m an associate professor and the Jazz Area Coordinator at Portland State. When this job came up in 2011, I was like, Portland has a lot of great things going for it. 


It’s changed a lot in the past eight years; The jazz scene changed a lot, some for the better, some for the worse. My own personal connection with the scene is as a bit of an outsider still, because I’m not from the area. It’s sort of hard to break into it. But I do think that it does have its charms, and a lot of potential. You don’t have to call for 10 years just to get one gig. You might have a chance of playing at these venues, and you can find parking and get there in 20 minutes. In the past few years, there have been a bunch of places closing, but there are some places that are popping up. That’s sort of been the feeling for the past couple years; a place will pop up and it will thrive, and then it will shut down. But there are a few places now. I feel pretty good about it, and things like the MJF of course are a step in the right direction, for sure. And I think the changes at PDX Jazz are encouraging. 


SA: I don’t come from my particularly musical family, not in a trained sense. My mom was a dance teacher. And so I danced growing up, kind of everything from jazz and tap  and pretty hardcore classical ballet classes. So I’ve always liked music and dancing, and my dad always played jazz on the radio. On Sundays, he’d make breakfast and my sister and I would dance on the carpet in the living room to jazz while he would take the family egg orders. So that’s probably my earliest recollection.


I think I could say that I always knew that I would be part of the arts or be some sort of performer. I just went on a limb and applied for music school in my senior year, and my choir teacher encouraged me, and I just went for it. I have no idea what it what would become of that many was really hard, but I stuck it out and it’s been worth it. 

Describe the project you’re bringing to Montavilla Jazz Festival 2019.

GC: Well, Sherry has the chops in a way that nobody else does in town, and I’ve worked with a lot of singers. It’s rare to have vocalists who are so professional and so flexible that they can do your music, or do some music that they haven’t seen for 10 years. The thing I noticed when Sherry auditioned for Portland State was the wide variety of things that she could do musically, artistically, and with a lot of precision and professionalism. 


SA: I’m constantly on the lookout for is lesser-known material that moves me. I like to be technical and do things that just feel musically, and it feels good to be challenged, but I’m always on the lookout for material that makes me feel something and challenges me. But as far as just playing with George, it’s just always felt really natural. I’ve worked with a lot of great chordal players I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great people in Portland and Christopher Woitach is one of my favorites, Dan Gaynor, there’s so many great folks out there that I feel really comfortable with, but when I played with George it was like an immediate comfort and trust. I could just kind of sit back and let it unfold. I’m inspired by the things he does. Hopefully it goes both ways! 

Is there a story behind this project?

GC: All of the songs will have a distinct flavor. When I lived in Winnipeg, there was a music series at a bookstore, and the guy who ran it asked me if I wanted to be the songwriter in residence. I was more of a composer than a songwriter, and I hadn’t really tried to like write lyrics, but then I started doing it. I got it to writing songs kind of just got into not caring so much about whether it was like the greatest thing, you know, and I tried to be a little bit more improvisational about it. 


I hired the vocal students at the University of Manitoba. I wrote like 60 songs… there’s nothing else to do in Winnipeg, you can’t go outside! So it forces you to be productive.

Which artists are you excited to hear at MJF 2019?

SA: Well, I love the B3 organ group and the Charlie Porter Quintet. And I just think Kathleen Hollingsworth is so cool and so giving of herself in so many ways. She’s always doing something for the community, for the students, and then finding the time to write her own music, so I’m always inspired by that. 


GC: Kerry Politzer – I’m playing on her set. Mel Brown is a great connection with the tradition. The times I’ve played with Mel Brown myself, it’s like I really hear this depth of understanding of the jazz tradition, which is fantastic.


Ez Weiss is one of our faculty here at Portland State; he is a really great arranger and obviously this will show that off. Dana Reason did a master class recently at Portland State. So I’d be curious to hear that. 


Gordon Lee and I have crossed paths. He has very interesting compositions. I have no idea what they sound like in a big band setting. I’m anxious to find out; in fact, that kind of gives me some ideas. At Portland State, we are developing our big band. One of my ideas is to have guest composers,  guest performers, for our seasonal concerts. That might be a good thing to do. 


SA: I have known Gordon since I was a kid. He was my sight-singing and ear-training teacher in college at Western Oregon. This sounds funny, but I hear he really likes to talk about me because he’s really proud of me as a pupil, so he tells me every time I see him. I look up to him and we’ve done a lot together over the years.

Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians that might be reading this?

SA: I really feel that if you, the young musician, have the desire and the work ethic, whether that’s going to college or doing things on your own, it’s going to take work, but I think that there’s a place for everyone who wants to be an artist. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to perhaps even have your dream job, but I think that’s pretty average, but I think I think a lot of students come in wondering if they should even start, and I don’t think that’s the way to approach it. There’s room for everybody and if they if they want to learn they can learn, and then they then they can go and apply it to their lives however they want.


So I guess my big message is to go for it and do not be afraid of taking the time for yourself. We were in a jury last winter where a student wasn’t sure what they wanted to do. And one of the other people was like, do it now. You will come back to this at some point in your life and wish you’d stuck with it  – you love this. Take the time now, while you’re young. 


GC: My parents always told me and my sister to find something that we really love to do, I’m very lucky that I found something that I have a passion for. It depends on what is important to you in your life. I mean, it gets harder now because of the way our economy is working, or not working, I should say. But for some people it’s all about the money, and it just can’t be if you’re going to be an artist. The business of music is kind of a separate thing, but it’s something that I stress a lot. Being a great musician and having business success in music are kind of two different skills. 


When you become a professional, you don’t necessarily put all your emotional eggs in the basket of every performance. It’s like, that was just a gig, I’ll have another gig tomorrow where I can play better.


SA: As a vocalist, I think it’s important to gather as many skills as possible. People respond to performers for how they connect or what they sound like, their storytelling ability all that stuff. But I I remember starting a pretty young age listening to what people said about vocalists, the stereotypes, and trying to do the opposite. So in one of my early gigs, there were no charts for the gig. I’d never transcribed anything, but I transcribed the parts for everyone in the band. And immediately, the band wanted to know who wrote it and they were shocked that it was me.


And I felt like I just like took a step up from that stereotype that people think about vocalists. Ever since then, I’ve tried to fill in those blanks. So I made sure I could read music, I can sight-read a gig. I just practically sight-read with the Chris Brown project last weekend, a full Steely Dan show. No rehearsal with that band.


And it’s so fulfilling to see those skills that you learned can be not just useful but empowering. I can write my own charts. I can write for horns. I can write a big band chart. I can write a choir chart. I can teach people how to do it. I know how to use notation. I know how to play piano. It’s so important. And you think, when are you going to use sight-singing, ear-training, when am I going to use this? When am I going to have to write a big band chart? You know what, what somebody will ask you. And you’ll be able to say yes.

What’s your take on the current state of the jazz and creative music scene in Portland?

GC: Could be better, could be worse.


SA: There is numerous talent and creativity going on in this community. But in order for it to survive and grow, hopefully, the community needs to invest in that art. It’s not free and if Portland wants to have an artistic community, they need to recognize that artists need the support to be artists. And I don’t think this is a Portland problem specifically; its universal. That we can afford to Invest – whether that’s paying a cover, or giving scholarships, buying a record. That’s a start. Artists need support. 

Can you share any thoughts about Mel Brown and Gordon Lee and their contributions to Portland jazz during their careers?

GC: I know what they sound like as musicians, but I’d like to hear this big band, which can be very different. I’ve never heard Mel Brown play with a big band, so that’s going to be great. 


SA: They are both dear to me, because I’ve seen them in so many different aspects as performers and as educators. They are very giving and kind, and have been, in my experience, very warm, and have inspired and supported me as I grew. So it’s nice to see them here and to be like hey, guys, we’re still in this! 

Sherry Alves with George Colligan (artist page)
Sunday, August 18, doors open: 1:00 p.m., set begins: 4:10 p.m.
Sunday Day Passes, RSVP on Facebook!

Photography by Kathryn Elsesser.

Artist Spotlight: Charlie Porter at Montavilla Brew Works

Artist Spotlight: Charlie Porter at Montavilla Brew Works

Throughout the summer our team met up with MJF 2019 artists at a few of our favorite neighborhood spots. This interview with Charlie Porter took place at Montavilla Brew Works, located at 7805 SE Stark Street in Montavilla, on June 14, 2019. Montavilla Brew Works has supported Montavilla Jazz Festival as our exclusive beer sponsor since 2015…


Describe your connection to the Portland jazz scene and community.

I’ve only been here…well, let’s see, it dates back to about six years or seven years ago when I lived in Portland for 11 months. And that’s when I was brand new to the scene and I had met Chuck Israels––actually I reached out to him and he was in the process of finding a new trumpet player anyway, because his former trumpet player left, so it kind of worked out. But then for personal reasons I ended up moving away.


While I was here, I met Alan Jones and I met Chuck Israels––how diverse can two groups be, you know? So that was pretty cool. And at that time there were like seven clubs open. But then for personal reasons I left and went up to Washington, but even though I was living up on Orcas Island, I was coming back once a month to do gigs in Portland. So I was still on the scene pretty much the entire time and then two years later after getting divorced I moved back here. So I’ve been here for almost four years. And so that’s my history in terms of how long I’ve lived here. But it’s funny because as soon as I moved here all the club started closing, so I thought maybe it had something to do with me (joking).


As far as the jazz scene goes there’s gigs that pop up from time to time whether they’re at the 1905 or there at Ben Fajen’s House Concerts, however there’s just not a whole lot of venues right now. But what’s nice about that is there’s always a ton of people coming out. So I see a lot of the same people over and over again and they’re really hungry for the music, you know. I’ll go check out shows that 1905 or some other places, but  in terms of being connected on the scene through playing it’s unfortunately more limited than I would hope that it would be. There isn’t a deficit in terms of people wanting to hear music. That seems really strong. 


Also we have a really great scene of youth playing the music there doesn’t seem to be any problem with that either. There’s plenty of young people wanting to play and it’s great that Alan (Jones) is making a space for them young musicians to perform over at Teutonic Wines with the music series that he’s putting on there, as well as mentoring young artists through his program, Alan Jones Academy of Music (AJAM)


Every person I see coming out of AJAM has something special going on if they are in there long enough because they get a piece of Alan (Jones) inside of them. And so in terms of getting tied into the community that way with the younger players, sometimes I teach at a jam and just being associated with Alan. I’ve met a lot of the younger players on the scene as well. So that’s been really cool. 


In terms of community, it’s not really jazz related, but we also have a pretty good little community of trumpet players here in Portland. I teach trumpet and sometimes I’ll have these trumpet hangs at my house––I need to start doing this again––I invite younger trumpeters over and I take them through the whole practice routine just the way that I did when I was studying in Paris. I studied in Paris at the Conservatory for a year with Guy Touvron who was basically a prized pupil of Maurice Andre. So Guy used to teach these classes––and he still does––in the  conservatory method of having everybody together in a classroom, playing for each other. By doing that it kind of enriches the sense of community that you have with all the trumpet players. Whereas over here in the United States by and large trumpet players are kind of at each other’s throats. You know, there are a lot of jokes actually about being a trumpet player because trumpet players tend to be very competitive. But I like that on this scene here in Portland all the trumpet players are cool and we all get along. It’s kind of like a Brotherhood of trumpet. 

Describe the project you’re bringing to Montavilla Jazz Festival 2019.

So I’m going to be releasing an album soon called Immigration Nation. The official release unfortunately isn’t going to be until October, but I’m going to place some of the material from that recording on this concert. The focus is basically all of us. It’s kind of twofold. It’s focusing on the history of our ancestry. Well specifically the people that have an immigrant ancestry history. So that won’t really apply obviously to Native Americans or even I think also you have to make a distinction between black Americans who were brought brought over through slavery because that wasn’t really immigration in the sense of moving of their own volition, right? So we have to make a distinction there but by and large everyone else is here because somebody decided to make a change and to move and to create a new life somewhere. And so this is kind of celebrating that. Celebrating the diversity that we have because of that it’s also celebrating the modern-day immigrant experience and struggles and hopefully inciting a little bit of empathy for that and giving us some common ground so that we know that we’re all kind of in this together. 


I see that word immigration kind of be like a four letter word. You know, it’s like it’s been so tainted by bad media and the headlines in the news are kind of making me sick. So of course with the current political climate, I just felt like I needed to do something for this next album that wasn’t just music for music’s sake. That’s basically what that’s about and it gives me a chance to explore some of my own heritage too, which is cool.


So on the album when you listen to it, you’ll hear Lebanese influences. You’ll hear stuff that is coming out of what I am, which is Lebanese, Greek, Italian, and English. So yeah, but not limited to that. 

Is there a story behind this project?

I wanted to do this project in New York. New York felt important to me because I lived there for 15 years and I had a lot of great musician friends out there. I’ve always wanted to do something with David Wong and we’ve been talking about it for a long time and he literally had two days available until he was going to be a not available for six months. And I also have a really, really, good friend Nick Biello who’s just one of the most burning saxophone players who you may not have ever heard. So anyway, the impetus was wanting to do something specifically with a couple of key players and the timing needed to be just right. 

Are you doing stuff beyond Immigration Nation on the festival?

For sure, some stuff like the Korean music influenced stuff that I’m writing. My writing is kind of a musical diary––I can’t keep a diary to save my life. I sit down and write entry number three: Today I ate breakfast, you know, I just can’t do it. But the musical diary makes a lot of sense for me and it’s the only way I feel like I can process old ideas and get new ideas to come through. I got to get it rid of all the old ideas. So in fact, I have a pad literally in my shower. It’s a waterproof pad because that’s when I get the most ideas. My girlfriend bought it for me. It’s changed my life. Some of these songs were written in the shower. One of them was written on the airplane going to DC. I just did a fundraising gig for the DC jazz festival. I showed up and we just had just a tiny bit of time to rehearse, but we didn’t rehearse this one tune and funny enough, it was that tune that the audience liked the most of all the stuff, you know, but you never know. It’s just weird that way––written on the way to the gig. Like the story that Art Blakey tells about 19 year old Dizzy Gillespie, writing a tune on the back of a garbage can lid, it’s amazing. So I just had this memory as if I was there watching him do that. 


Unlike Immigration Nation, this music doesn’t really have any kind of specific target. It’s just really different. I like riding with Concepts, you know. One of the songs is called Contrary Motions and it explores one line going up [sings the line], where as the whole Rhythm sections going down [singing]. It’s a real simple idea, but the whole tune kind of comes out. That nice for me. It’s like if I’m listening to a song and I can’t grab onto a concept and it’s just Randomness. Then it just doesn’t hold my attention. Yeah, so we might play a song or two from another project which is going to come up which will probably be the next recording project that I do and that’s going to be with Portland musicians. It’s going to be called Stranger Than Fiction: Songs from the American Sci-fi Songbook. I love sci-fi and music and I feel like you know growing up watching lots of sci-fi movies and TV shows. I feel like there’s a real wealth of music in that specific genre that hasn’t really been tapped into. 


We’re probably going to do a couple of things from that as well. So maybe one thing from that I’d like to make it like half stuff from Immigration Nation.

Which artists are you excited to hear at MJF 2019?

A lot of these people are my friends. So of course, yeah, you know, great. I love Bobby (Torres) and I love his music. I’ve known Sherry (Alves) for a few years. She’s a great singer. I first worked with her up actually this camp that I teach at every year but you know what other than hearing her at that camp. I’ve never heard her do her own thing, especially hearing George, that is gonna be amazing. Some of these I have to admit I don’t know so that’s kind of a good sign. Yeah, it’s great to see a mix of things that are familiar and unfamiliar seems to be the perfect balance. I love how you guys are holding space for local groups.


One of the things that I feel like about other festivals don’t feature local acts in a way that actually improves or enriches the local Jazz scene, you know, it kind of treats them as if we aren’t really important. 


While other festivals focus on people from out of town. My thinking is that George (Colligan) is one of the most killing musicians you could get anywhere. So you should have a feature of local musicians like those. You know what I’m saying? There are people that should be featured and should be given a prime-time spot on a festival. So I’m glad you guys are doing that. Let people know that we are all composers and music makers in our own right. Because all these people, you know, John Coltrane is not John Coltrane because he was doing Lester Young tributes, you know? Yeah, just you know, holding space for individuals to express themselves as individuals is important, you know, especially in music like this. Otherwise, it becomes a museum piece.

What’s your favorite Montavilla Brew Works beer?

It would have to be the Porter that I’m having right now. It might be the Bipartisan Porter. Yeah, coffee notes, definitely some coffee notes. What’s that one? Probably the Cascadian Dark Ale. Pretty good. I have to have at least two beers before I can give an honest answer. Yeah, I’d have to say the Porter compared to the CDA. 

Do you have any words of wisdom for young musicians that might be reading this?

I guess the biggest thing would be to listen a lot and play what you hear like transcribing. It’s the intravenous if there was a way to like play the music at the highest level, that’s the way that all the older players did and I see a lot of younger players nowadays going straight to the books, are going straight to the how-to videos or to the in and they bypassed the  way that seems like the longer way but it ends up actually being the shorter way because there’s so much context that you get out of playing along with something versus just, you know, getting one-dimensional transcript of it on a piece of paper. 


So that would be the first thing that’s a that’s the first thing Wynton told me when I saw him when I was 13 He said go home and listen to Louis Armstrong and other players and play what you hear just play what you hear and Got me in the music faster than anything. Nobody had to tell me to love Louis Armstrong. I did just became self-evident. I just you know, I had that, you know, fire lit under me to listen to him in the first place from hearing how good Wynton sounded but then that’s just it when something is that great, it really is self-evident and you start to hear it, you just have to have somebody break down the wall and say hey check this out.


The other thing would be don’t do anything half-ass Do everything full-ass. Finish things you start. It took me a long time to figure that one out. You know, I’d half-write a song or I’d have to do this or half-practice. But the people that really get ahead they’re putting a hundred and ten percent into everything that they’re doing. So and Life’s too short to just do it halfway.

What’s your take on the current state of the jazz and creative music scene in Portland?

There’s lots of fans of the music here and there’s lots of people that want to make the music. 


Yeah the bad or at least temporarily not good would be just having more venues but not having the venues. But again, maybe that’s even a good thing in a sense because it kind of stirs up the pot a little bit because it forces us all to find new venues. And maybe then the people that don’t get as much exposure through the previous venues will get more exposure through these new venues, you know, I mean as see the double edged sword of having someone awesome like Mel Brown is he becomes the staple and then people only want to go out and see Mel Brown every week, you know, and but there’s there’s always new people coming up like people need to know about Andres people need to know about Charlie Porter or whoever, you know, yeah, like so I think we all need to have our shot basically at being able to get on the scene and this kind of does help that in a sense.

Can you share any thoughts about Mel Brown and Gordon Lee and their contributions to Portland jazz during their careers?

The only thing I can say honestly about that is that well, you know Mel’s on my my last record. Mel Smiles, I wrote it for Mel. I saw I got the pleasure of seeing Mel do kind of a four drummer duel. Alan was on it and Carlton was on it and so was Christopher (Brown). There was lots of fancy drumming going on loud drumming and but the drumming that really caught my eye the whole night was Mel. He just had this kind of this delicate touch and this real sensitivity musically that was just super attractive and I found that to be the case every time that I watch him play as well as the joy in watching him play––just his smile is infectious, which is why I called that song Mel Smiles. 


So I knew that I definitely wanted to do something with Mel after hearing them. Even the first time and I got to play with his sextet, you know, back in the old Jimmy Mac’s when it was open that was kind of that was one of my first experiences hearing Mel was actually sitting in with his band. So I hadn’t really heard them before that and he was super cool and nice about it. 


Gordon Lee’s arrangements, I don’t know much about Gordon Lee, but I know he’s a hell of a writer and arranger and I really respect what he does with that. I’m sure that’s partially at the core of that group sounding the way that they do, but also just hearing Mel talk about stories, you know playing with the Beatles and like just all the crazy stuff, all the ladies.

Charlie Porter Quintet (artist page)
Saturday, August 17, doors open: 1:00 p.m., set begins: 5:30 p.m.
Saturday Day Passes, RSVP on Facebook!

Photography by Kathryn Elsesser.