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First Jazz 2008

First Jazz 2008, presented by The Jazz Society of Oregon took place in two venues on April 5th, 2008. The afternoon session took place at Jimmy Mak’s one of Portland’s top notch jazz showcases. The afternoon began with a performance by the Whiskey Hill Jazz Club, a middle and high school jazz band based in Canby, OR, under the able direction of Clark H. Bondy who has squired this band for the last 15 years. This exuberant group of teenagers was well coached and produced a solid ensemble big band sound that swelled the chests of many of the parents present in the audience. All in attendance could feel that the future of jazz is assured in the hands of these musically talented and dedicated youth.

The Whiskey Hill band kicked off with “Honey Suckle Rose” and followed with solid renditions of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Birth of the Band” by Quincy Jones and a Latin tune entitled “You Likea Da Juice” which spiced up the menu with South of the border salsa. Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” was nicely rendered as was the up tempo tune “Groove Dot Com” which was followed by a smooth rendition of “Swing, Swing, Swing” by John Williams. The well known “Caravan” and the oft played “Pick up the Pieces” was joined by the humorous “Hog Squealing, Belly Aching Blues” which left the audience smiling and rump rolling. Numerous solos revealed the depth and breadth of talent in this band which provided a tasty hors d’oeuvre for the main event which followed their performance.

The main dish at Jimmy Mak’s was saxophonist Red Holloway, JazzAscona 2007 award winner. This octogenarian exhibited a marvelous sense of humor along with excellent rapport with his audience. This seasoned musician has played with many of the greats in both the blues and jazz genres while making a name for himself synonymous with the best in alto and tenor saxophone musicianship. His association with organist “Brother” Jack McDuff” helped to vault him into the public consciousness. He has toured and entertained all around the world exhibiting his hard driving mainstream style of playing. He was associated with the great Sonny Stitt up until the time of Stitt’s Death and more recently has teamed with trumpeter Clark Terry with whom he has made several recordings as the latest in an impressive discography. His latest musical offering is “Something Old, Something New” released in January, 2008 on the RH label.

Mr. Holloway was accompanied by Portland musicians Ron Steen on drums, Phil Goldberg on piano and Phil Baker on stand up bass. The skill level of these musicians was evident in their polished, fluent ensemble performance rendered without opportunity to rehearse! Mr. Holloway’s fun and easygoing manner enhanced his saxophone virtuosity and resulted in the audience thoroughly enjoying this second set of the kick off portion of First Jazz. Master blaster Holloway invited audience participation on the blues tune “Drink Muddy Water” and humorously introduced the jazz standard “You’ve changed.” A bossa nova number provided a change of pace and the venerable “St. Thomas” had the audience dreaming of sunny climes on this somewhat rainy afternoon. A closing blues number had the audience smiling and appreciative of the opportunity to hear the best in jazz and blues by one of the finest practitioners of the musical art of saxophony.

Part two of First Jazz, 2008 was offered at The Old Church and featured local jazz musician and composer, Darrell Grant, who was honored during the evening by his induction into the Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Fame. This induction was commemorated via a ceremony involving Mr. Grant receiving a glass piano on an inscribed base along with the presentation of his portrait beautifully rendered by local artist Diane Russell. A t-shirt celebrating Mr. Grant’s hall of Fame induction was available for purchase during the course of the day.

Mr. Grant, who has significantly contributed to the Portland Jazz community, has established his own jazz label and has been a popular performer throughout the country. He was educated at The Eastman School of Music and honed his musical chops in New York City. His 1994 release “Black Art” was chosen as one of the top 10 jazz recordings of the year by the New York Times.  His latest recording in 2007, is the inspired “Truth and Reconciliation” with John Patitucci,, Bill Frisell, Joe Locke, Adam Rogers, Steve Wilson and Brian Blade.

This musician and musical educator was ably accompanied by shoeless drummer Alan Jones and stand up bassist Tom Wakeling. This trio appeared to be enjoying themselves throughout their set and made some sweet music of heavenly proportion. Mr. Grant was alternately tender and energetic on the keys and wowed the audience with his sensitive and deft musicianship. Wakeling and Jones provided some significant “wow” factor again and again during this fine musical offering to an appreciative audience.

Several of the tunes from Grant’s set list included the Betty Carter tune “Tight,” “Feast of Soleil,” George Cable’s “Lullaby” and “The New Bop.”  This superlative first set provided an excellent musical platform for the headliner of the evening who put the finishing touches on a colossal day of the best in Jazz.

Headliner Eric Alexander was a product of the Pacific Northwest, moved to New York in the late 80’s and vaulted into prominence with his noteworthy performance in the 1991 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition. He made his recording debut in 1991 on the Muse label and has recorded extensively since then as a leader and sideman, composing some of the tunes which he has recorded. In 2004 Mr. Alexander signed an exclusive contract with the HighNote Record label.  His latest musical releases include “Temple of Olympic Zeus” and “Prime Time” a CD/DVD concert performance.

This iconic tenor saxophonist was accompanied by musicians Grant, Jones and Wakeling who were warmed up from their excellent first set. Mr. Alexander capped the evening with his hard bop influenced and Alexander determined style of play. He impacted the audience with his fluent, melodic renderings which left those in attendance lusting for more.

His set list included McCoy Tyner’s “Inner Glimpse,” Cy Coleman’s “I’m going to Laugh You Right Out of my Life” and the old standard “All The Way.” His “Astante” was thought provoking and his self composed tribute to his son “Little Lucas” was touching. He closed the set with “Night Mist Blues” by Ahmad Jamal.

Eric Alexander is the future of jazz and in his hands the future of jazz seems rosy indeed. He is one to watch!

First Jazz next year will be a must attend event for all who enjoy the best in jazz.


Richard Lazere, Ph.D., Inc.

Clubscene Writer

Copyright 2008, Jazz Society of Oregon