How will Portland jazz survive without Andrew Oliver? Since Hurricane Katrina blew the young pianist back to his hometown in 2005 after a few years at New Orleans' Loyola University, he's gigged and recorded several impressive CDs with his Andrew Oliver Sextet and Trio. He also founded, toured and recorded with the Kora Band, the Canadian-American sextet Tunnel Six, the avant-big band Sound for the Organization of Society, the Balkan brass band Krebsic Orkestar and several other duos, trios and quartets. Despite the remarkable variety of his many projects, they all swing, appealing to casual fans as much as hardcore jazzers.
Now, as family commitments move him to London next month, Oliver leaves behind a pair of important Portland musical institutions: the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble and its spinoff label, PJCE Records.
"For me, it's a great opportunity," Oliver says of his impending transatlantic relocation. "I grew up here and I love it, and I've been able to do a fair amount of things here. But I'm excited to be able to participate in the thriving U.K. jazz scene and larger European scene, which has a tantalizingly well-established infrastructure for jazz."
PJCE grew out of the big band Oliver, Gus Slayton and other Portland State University jazz students played in and wrote for during college under the direction of Charley Gray. Since its first concert in 2007, the band has been a major creative generator of Portland jazz, giving four concerts a year, each showcasing several new compositions by its members. This month's concert features works by one of today's most important jazz composers, Dave Douglas, and originals by PJCE regulars Oliver, guitarist Dan Duval, pianist Ezra Weiss, Gray, Trio Subtonic's Galen Clark and more.
Oliver's other main legacy, PJCE Records, will continue under the leadership of guitarist and longtime collaborator Duval. "I started the label to highlight the diversity and high quality of players in Portland," Oliver says. "More than a lot of cities of its size, Portland has an extremely high caliber of players." The plucky jazz label, which has already released seven excellent recordings in under a year, has begun to pick up some national reviews and will release a compilation in December.
Though Oliver is excited about the prospects of exploring European jazz, and optimistic about the future of jazz in Portland, "we need to work on bridging the generation gap and bringing new people into jazz," he says. "It's been interesting that since I've been preparing to move, I get a lot of reactions from people who say, 'You've done so much for the scene.' I appreciate the sentiment and all the people who have supported me over the years, but I'm also at a loss as to how to get people to go out and see music. The quality of musicians in town is better than ever, and more good musicians are coming in every day. In the future, it's going to take more organizational work to make it easier for people to get exposed to jazz."
SEE IT: The Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble plays Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan St., on Thursday, June 20. 7:30 pm. $15. All ages until 9 pm.