• WBGO at the Portland Jazz Festival: Part 1

    February 25, 2011. Posted by Alex Rodriguez.

    thara esperanza
    Photo by Michael Bell

    This week, WBGO web producer and Portland, Oregon native Alex W. Rodriguez traveled to his hometown to attend the Portland Jazz Festival. How has jazz in his hometown fared, eight years after he left for the East Coast? Watch this space to find out, as Alex shares his experiences throughout the main festival weekend.

    Although the Portland Jazz Festival is *technically* halfway over, with five days of local and national acts having blown through town, things really started to heat up yesterday. Not only was clarinetist Don Byron in town to play an eclectic set of jazz-infused klezmer music inspired by the late singer/comedian Mickey Katz, but the city's local hero, media darling and consummate musician Esperanza Spalding (pictured) made her first public appearance at Portland State University.

    Ms. Spalding returned to PSU's newly-renovated Lincoln Hall, where she spent a year as a precocious 16-year-old studying bass and preparing to leave Portland for Boston's Berklee College of Music in 2001. She sat in on an improvisation seminar led by one of her former jazz mentors, pianist Darrell Grant. Since moving from New York to Portland in 1997, Grant has established himself as one of the Portland jazz scene's most ardent activists. Spalding offered his students some tough but thoughtful critiques, urging the young musicians to incorporate dynamic contrast and structural coherence into their performance.

    Afterward, she held a press conference for the adoring local media. When I asked her what other jazz musicians she has been checking out lately, she spoke glowingly of Trombone Shorty, Gretchen Parlato, Norwegian jazz-rock outfit Jaga Jazzist and Fred Hersch's latest solo album, Alone at the Village Vanguard, which will be released on Tuesday (click the link to pre-order.) Humbly deflecting credit for her success to her Portland mentors, Spalding insisted that she still has a long way to go, musically speaking, but is still deeply proud of the music that she has made so far, including her 2010 release, Chamber Music Society. (Tune into The Checkout on Tuesday to hear the interview that we recorded that afternoon.)

    Later that evening, Spalding made a surprise appearance at the Newmark Theater, where she introduced Don Byron and his eight-piece klezmer ensemble. Without playing a note, she drew a raucous standing ovation from the capacity crowd, a reminder that despite her skyrocketing international profile, she's still Portland's pride and joy.

    For an excellent review and discussion of Byron's concert on Thursday night, and his time here in Portland, check out Tom D'Antoni's piece at Oregon Music News.

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