No. 23 Because the Jazz Scene Is Better Than Ever These Days

Over the past few years, the city has seen an explosion of young players who have brought a renewed sense of energy to the scene.

Jazz at The 1905 (Mick Hangland-Skill)

Thanks to the presence of foundational artists like Mel Brown, Rebecca Kilgore and Darrell Grant, as well as a steady flow of graduates from the music programs at Portland State University, Lewis & Clark College and Alan Jones Academy of Music, the pool of jazz talent in Portland is always full. These days, though, it seems to be overflowing.

Over the past few years, the city has seen an explosion of young players who have brought a renewed sense of energy to the scene. They are a fearsome and fearless bunch that, much like the artists who have fueled new waves of jazz in L.A. and London, are drawing from a vast assortment of influences in their work.

In the music of multi-instrumentalist Machado Mijiga, for example, there are strains of R&B, hip-hop and modern electronica. Damnation of Memory, the first album from trombonist James Powers that debuted last November, has a warped psychedelic spirit worthy of Sun Ra or Broadcast. Vocalist Saeeda Wright imbues her performances with shades of gospel and pure soul. And trumpeter Noah Simpson easily jumps between hard bop and electric fusion.

They’re not alone, either. At spaces like the 1905, Derby and Cruzroom, those aforementioned artists and players like drummer Cory Limuaco, pianist Charlie Brown III, and trumpeter Pablo Rivarola are in regular rotation. They’re also getting some vital support and mentorship from more established musicians and institutions. Powers’ album, for instance, was released by the in-house label of the long-standing Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, and Mijiga regularly collaborates with Darrell Grant.

The only question that remains is how much longer we can expect to keep these artists here. While the local scene is vibrant, there are more opportunities for jazz musicians in larger cities. That’s what sent saxophonist Nicole Glover to New York City and, until her recent return to Oregon, caused bassist Esperanza Spalding to move to Massachusetts. It feels like only a matter of time before we start seeing the current class of players following suit. Let’s enjoy them while we can.

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