The 12th Annual Portland Jazz Festival Presented by Alaska Airlines is set to commence Wednesday, February 18 through Sunday, March 1 with a record number of 30 headline concerts at venues throughout the Portland metro region. The festival was co-founded in 2004 with Travel Portland to establish a cultural tourism initiative in the metro Portland area, and to celebrate Black History Month through education and outreach programming.
[Photo Top: Christian McBride, Lucky Peterson; Bottom: Kurt Elling, Nicholas Payton]
This year's 12-day celebration will also boast the first annual Jazz Forward Competition, a high school competition drawing students from throughout the western region. In partnership with Portland State University, the JFC was created to establish a scholarship program in the tradition of other prestigious regional events held in Reno, Nevada, Monterey, California and Moscow, Idaho. Finalists will compete in five categories, with the winners receiving main stage exposure.
An astounding array of nine singers will headline shows throughout the festival. Kurt Elling and the Art Abrams Big Band are paying tribute to the seminal early '60s period that focused on three Sinatra/Basie collaborations in a For Portland Only program, which features original arrangements by Quincy Jones, titled Elling Swings Sinatra. Bay Area singer Jackie Ryan debuts in honor of 2015 Portland Jazz Master, Wayne Thompson. This special program will highlight the music of Michel Legrand with music director Randy Porter.
Bebel Gilberto, the daughter of the legendary Joao Gilberto appears for the first time since 2010 in support of her latest album, Tudo. Karla Harris, a Portland favorite, will join Luis Conte to cook with the Bobby Torres Full Ensemble; and Joe McBride makes his debut festival appearance digging Ray Charles with the Mel Brown B-3 Organ Band. NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan debuts, joined by her longstanding bassist Cameron Brown. Becca Stevens, who is breaking out all over the New York region, and making her Portland debut, will hit three ways - she'll accompany Taylor Eigsti, perform in solo, and cover the captivating music of Laura Nyro.
Label sponsor Mack Avenue Records recently released albums from two stunning vocalists who are set to perform. Vocalist Freda Payne will make her Portland debut with the Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group, and offer up a sultry mix of jazz and R&B, all the while recalling her Motown roots, while label-mate Cyrille Aimée returns to PDX with an expanded ensemble since performing her Django to Jobim tribute in 2012. Adrien Moignard and Guilherme Monteiro, two French guitarists in the style of Reinhardt, will also join Aimée.
Moignard and Monteiro aren't the only guitarists slated to perform. Joel Harrison debuts at the festival with his long anticipated Free Country Ensemble (their 2002 release featured Norah Jones), while Russell Malone will back the legendary Ron Carter. Portland's Dan Balmer and John Stowell revisit the subtle genius of Jim Hall, and Balmer will also join Trio Subtonic and Frank Catalano. Julian Lage brings in jazz heavyweights Scott Colley and Eric Harland in an exciting new trio, and legendary blues guitarist Lucky Peterson will conclude the festival with what is guaranteed to be a smokin' affair.
Three soulful saxophonists, Von Freeman, Eddie Harris and Gene Ammons, will be fondly remembered on Blowin' in From Chicago: For Vonski, Jug and Eddie Who? Frank Catalano, who holds court weekly at the famed Green Mill, will be joined by native Chicagoans Clark Sommers and Mike Raynor with B-3 and piano support from George Colligan and guitarist Dan Balmer.
A handful of celebrated piano trios are scheduled to perform: Bill Charlap makes his first festival appearance since 2009, and also celebrates Sinatra on, In the Wee Small Hours, a For Portland Only instrumental program with the focus on Sinatra's early to mid and late '50s Capitol Records material; he'll be accompanied by Peter and Kenny Washington. Benny Green, who last appeared in 2004 as a sideman on a tribute to Ray Brown, will feature his long standing trio; while ECM artist Vijay Iyer debuts his classic trio with Stephan Crumb and Marcus Gilmore. Taylor Eigsti will make his festival debut in three diverse settings: solo piano, trio with Becca Stevens, and the Free Country Ensemble. Classic Pianos will boast five intimate shows: Eigsti, Stevens, Marc Cary's For the Love of Abbey, former Kurt Elling Music Director Laurence Hobgood, and Portland's number one piano son, Tony Pacini.
"There's a wealth of critically acclaimed artists in Portland, and what better way to showcase them than in the Festival," states Managing Director Don Lucoff. "Just on the headline shows alone, not counting the free gigs around town, we'll have over 50 Portland musicians playing in leader and sideman roles." Bobby Torres, Mel Brown and Hailey Niswanger will lead their respective bands at Jimmy Mak's, the venerable jazz club that is home base to PDX Jazz where upwards of 15 shows a year are presented outside the annual Festival.
Two new initiatives put the spotlight on local artists: The NYC to PDX Project, an assembly of transplanted New Yorkers, directed by Darrell Grant, playing in a manner of configurations not seen before in PDX; and Young Lions Revisited, co-led by Chris Brown and Devin Phillips welcoming an original young lion, Ralph Bowen and special guest Kamasi Washington (a Billy Higgins World Stage disciple and Gerald Wilson Big Band alumni). The Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble Showcase also returns with three bands in support of new albums under the direction of Ryan Meagher.
Additional headline shows at P5 (Newmark and Winningstad Theatres) pair Lou Donaldson, who last appeared at the festival in 2009, and Grammy® Award-winning bassist Christian McBride, who is making his trio debut with American Pianists Association Cole Porter Fellow, finalist Christian Sands and Ulysses Owens, Jr. Billy Childs, the longtime pianist for Freddie Hubbard and Chris Botti, introduces a bold project: Mapping the Treasure: A Tribute to Laura Nyro. Appearing on the same show is adventuresome trumpeter, pianist, and vocalist Nicholas Payton with Bill Stewart and Vicente Archer. Lee Konitz makes his festival debut with Dan Tepfer, Alan Jones, and Tom Wakeling, and the iconic Ron Carter will make a rare Portland appearance on a double bill with Benny Green to conclude the festivities at the Newmark Theatre.
Lucoff concludes, "This year's line-up will certainly appeal to a broad demographic of music fans with an ample amount of free music all over the Portland metro area. We are presenting music for the first time in the First Congregational Church and return to the Aladdin Theatre and The Old Church. We look forward to nine exciting shows at Jimmy Mak's, the most we have ever produced during the Festival, our ongoing programming at Classic Pianos, and the Newmark and Winningstad Theatre shows complimented by free Jazz Conversations, music in the Art Bar Atrium of P5, and various hotels throughout the downtown corridor."