2017 PDX Jazz Festival


Maria Schneider photo courtesy of artist

February 16-26
Various venues, Portland, OR

The 2017 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival brings the Portland metro area together for a week and a half of world-class music, while the city perseveres the tragic loss of historic jazz venue Jimmy Mak’s and the life of long-time owner Jimmy Makarounis. PDX Jazz focuses this year’s festival on moving forward, while celebrating the music and influence of past jazz centurions John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Buddy Rich.

Running from Thursday, February 16, through Sunday, February 26, the festival sees nearly 40 shows, with heavy hitters including: a kick-off performance by two contemporary jazz icons, Master saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Grammy Award-winning singer Kurt Elling together, neo-soul icon Roy Ayers, and Maria Schneider and her Orchestra’s West Coast debut.

The festival calls on a handful of renowned artists whom embody the collective musical spirit of iconoclasts Gillespie, Monk, and Rich from a slew of vantage points.

Gillespie’s protégé Jon Faddis will guest during the world premiere of Portland Jazz Master Mel Brown’s big band. Faddis’ extensive career began playing with Charles Mingus, and recording with Gillespie, George Benson, Anthony Braxton, and Oscar Peterson, following a career as a New York studio musician. For this performance, Faddis provides original Gillespie big band arrangements.

A double bill featuring the legendary Jimmy and Albert Heath Brothers and Javon Jackson’s Sax Appeal roars in celebration of Gillespie’s 100th birthday. Ninety-one-year-old saxophonist and NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath is one of the great elder statesmen of the jazz tradition, along with Albert “Tootie” Heath. Household names in hard bop, the Heaths have performed on nearly 200 albums and collaborated with the ultimate all-star list of American jazz: Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Art Farmer, Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone, and Herbie Hancock.

Three grandfathered jazz guitar giants are present this year: the impeccable jazz guitar innovator John Abercrombie with a career spanning more than 40 years, multi-instrumentalist and bandleader for the enduring group Oregon Ralph Towner, and the anticipated guitar Grammy winner John Scofield following his sold out performance with Joe Lovano at the 2016 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival. Scofield returns reinterpreting classic country tunes with a jazz foursome.

Often joining Gillespie during their post-bop period, modern jazz progenitor Thelonious “Sphere” Monk is embodied by his son TS Monk’s Sextet paired with the Musical Director of the Thelonious Monk Institute John Beasley and his MONK’estra. Monk’s music is again recast in the percussion-filled Latin sojourn Descarga for Monk & Diz with John Santos, Alex Conde, and Bobby Torres. The festival’s final Sunday brings a cross-country collective for Misteriosos, a tribute honoring outstanding Monk interpreter Steve Lacy.

Meanwhile, Buddy Rich’s legendary Gretch drum night battles are rearranged by the sextet of Portland-bred Alan Jones. Jones has studied with Art Blakey and Jaco Pastorius, and played with some of jazz’s greatest artists Cecil Taylor, Randy Brecker, George Cables, Esperanza Spalding, and John Abercrombie. Jones’ two shows will feature the talents of Carlton Jackson, and Mel and Christopher Brown.

Born of the same vein, drummer and educator Ralph Peterson will resurrect his admired trio TriAngular in celebration of the 2016 album TriAngular III. Achieving early notoriety as Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers’ second drummer, Peterson continued to mentor young talent throughout his own career, while creating with a who’s who of jazz heavyweights including Terence Blanchard, Charles Lloyd, Branford Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, and Wynton Marsalis.

This year’s festival will also boast a spread of top-notch fusion acts: The Godfather of Neo-Soul Roy Ayers and the funky Farnell Newton & The Othership Connection, the smooth groove of L.A. hip-hop collaborator Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, the explosive rock electronic/acoustic Kneebody, and longstanding, influential Grammy Award-winning contemporary jazz group Yellowjackets with guitarist Mike Stern.

Another selection of featured pianists perform: Seattle’s prodigal son, piano star Aaron Parks, critically acclaimed Portland composer Ezra Weiss, ECM recording electronic keyboardist Craig Taborn with his quartet, Arkansas-born blues/jazz/gospel pianist Amina Claudine Myers, and Colombian-born Latin fusion pianist Hector Martignon.

Gillespie is further remembered through a weeklong residency of free shows at Al’s Den below the Crystal Hotel. The series includes a music duel of Chet Baker versus Dizzy Gillespie and local big bands playing Gillespie-inspired tunes. Meanwhile, a few free late night shows take place at Art Bar, a venue attached to Winningstad Theatre that is a Portland staple for presenting local artists.

The non-profit cultural arts organization, and co-presenter for the 11-day festival with Portland audio systems company Biamp, notes that show relocations due to the Jimmy Mak’s closure have expanded the list of Portland venues that the festival will work with this year.

“It hasn’t been seamless,” says Artistic Director Don Lucoff, who was tasked with relocating 11 headlining shows previously scheduled at Mak’s. Among the handful of new locations is the familiar and popular Lola’s Room at Crystal Ballroom, the illustrious recital hall of Portland’s Classic Pianos, and the up-and-coming Fremont Theater, opened by local musicians in the hip NE district.

PDX Jazz proposes: “Come celebrate a century of innovation while we look back and move forward.”

Tickets, full schedule, and more information available at pdxjazz.com or 503-228-5299.

–Halynn Blanchard


Posted on

January 27, 2017

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