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Clubscene Writer

Name: Bernie Knab

I grew up hearing mostly classical music, including opera, but more often than not, the instrumental works of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. Hearing these and other symphonic works laid the groundwork, I think, for my penchant for instrumental music. In 1950, during my brief tenure (!) in seminary, I overheard some great piano/guitar duo music coming from a practice room buried in a classroom building basement. I knocked on the door, was a let in, and Ramon Escheveria (guitar) and John Malarky introduced themselves and invited me to drop by any time I heard them playing. A few weeks later, I went by to say my goodbyes since I had determined to exit the seminary, for good. They wouldn't let me go, however, without first admonishing me to be sure when I got “outside” to listen, and listen well, to Stan Kenton! This I obediently did. It was, plain and simply, hearing Kenton that launched me on my long, enduring love affair with jazz.

For quite a few years Kenton's challenging harmonics and compelling arrangements were, first and foremost what I listened to. Then, slowly, I became acquainted with numerous other bands making it big in the fifties and sixties- Billy May, Ted Heath, Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, Les Elgart, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Gil Evans and others. Soon, too, I became enthralled with smaller groups- Dave Brubeck, John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, Shearing, Erroll Garner, as well as numerous straight ahead ensembles- Gillespie, Chet Baker, Shelly Manne, and many others.

These days, indeed for the last twenty years or so, I've been most taken by jazz pianists, solo or in trio and other small formats. These include (but are only a select few) Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Alan Broadbent, Oscar Peterson, Fred Hirsch, Jessica Williams, Monk, Roger Kellaway, Mike Woffard, Bill Cunliffe, Bill Charlap and Benny Green. Of course, nothing beats going out to hear live jazz, and living in Portland provides me a rich menu of world class musicians to enjoy. Local luminaries include Randy Porter, Tony Pacini, George Mitchell, Dan Balmer, Renato Caranto, Ed Bennett, Scott Steed, Mike Horsfall, Dave Avere, Dan Presley, Andre St. James, Warren Rand, Darrell Grant, Gordon Lee, Mel Brown, Alan Jones, Gary Hobbs, Phil Baker, Ron Steen , Dave Captein, Devin Phillips and so many more, including the sterling vocalists, Shelly Rudolph, Marilyn Keller and Valerie Day. Again, these are to name but a few, and that's how rich the jazz scene is in our city!

I hang out most frequently at the new Jimmy Mak's where one gets treated to three nights a week of Mel Brown in septet, quartet and quintet formats. I love to catch Ron Steen , whether he's jamming at Clyde's, Wilf's, Produce Row or at other venues, and always enjoy Tall Jazz at the Heathman or Arrivederci's, or catching Bill Beach or Lee Wuthenow at the Benson.

When I look back on favorite jazz experiences, Stan Kenton again leaps to mind. I had the great pleasure of seeing his various bands live in 5 different states. One of these times was at the Macumba in San Francisco in 1955. Together with the gifted photographer, Bill Grand, we presented the Kenton Band with a slide show we had assembled to selected music by the Kenton band. It was 3:00 AM when we did this (!) and I recall happily that we “borrowed” Sal Salvador's guitar amplifier to project the sound. Bill and I had hoped that there might be a way to package the visuals to accompany a future Kenton album. It wasn't to be. But the experience was glorious nevertheless. And I let myself believe then (and still kind of do) that Stan, in saying to us that he wanted us to pursue discussion of possible applications with his agent, was at least mildly flattered by what we'd done and maybe even genuinely interested. And so it goes…

Additionally, I recall with great pleasure seeing the Dave Brubeck Octet at the Blackhawk in San Francisco , and Chico Hamilton and Cal Tjader as well. Over the years, I also saw and loved the Brubeck Quartet. A special memory is having seen the Modern Jazz Quartet at PSU in 1962: never before or since have four guys looked classier at a jazz concert than these four geniuses all decked out in impeccable tuxedos. But what were their choices…they had their hands full just trying to keep up with the four gorgeous, elegantly turned out women who accompanied them. And the music, by the way, was awesome!

These days, the best experiences are catching the marvelous menu of live jazz right here in my own backyard. And I can't overlook the enjoyment I've had producing and hosting jazz concerts at both Chemeketa Community College (Jazz in the Afternoon) and Willamette Valley Vineyards (Jazz in the Afternoon and Four Seasons Jazz Concerts.)

I'm occasionally asked what are my favorite tunes, and performed by whom. It is a question that I have a tough time answering; one hears so much music over time and culling a few favorites from that experience I find almost undoable. But I'll easily admit to loving Frank Sinatra's “Here's That Rainy Day,” a tune I never tire of, and I can't leave Frank without professing my strong conviction that “Only the Lonely” is at least one of his top 3 albums! When Mel's septet does “I remember Clifford,” I'm gone. And way back when I was devouring big band sounds in the fifties, I still remember pulling my '50 Dodge to the curb so that I could listen undistracted to the Ted Heath band's lovely take on that magical tune, “Skylark”. And the Sauter/Finnegan band's “Old Folks”. How about Bill Evans' “Waltz for Debbie”? Dan Balmer's “Venus”? Pat Metheny's “Farmer's Trust”? And, you can't possibly exclude Gil Evans and Miles Davis' collaborations: “Sketches of Spain” and “Porgy and Bess”...!

I also have a tough time answering who my favorite performers are. But I think my answers to this one are pretty obvious from that I've already written here. However, when asked if I recommend any “jazz books” I am delighted to recommend two that come readily to mind: Stephanie Stein Crease's “Gil Evans: Out of the Cool, His Life and Music,” as well as Laurie Pepper's amazing book on her husband, the late Art Pepper, “Straight life”. And who can resist the photographic masterpieces, William Claxton's, “Jazz Seen,” and Carol Friedman's “The Jazz Pictures”?

So, to wrap up this bio-sketch: In 2002, I retired from Chemeketa Community College , In Salem, where for 13 years I was Director of Humanities and Communications and also produced and hosted approximately 70 jazz concerts presented both at the college and at Willamette Valley Vineyards.

Bernie Knab, 3503 S.W. Canby St. , Portland , Oregon , 97219 , bank@teleport.com


Interview/Conversation with Jazz Pianist, Composer and Arranger, Tony Pacini, March 7, 2008
Shirley Nanette, February 20, 2008
Michael Winkle, January 17, 2008
A Conversation with George Fendel, November 09, 2007
A Conversation with Dan Balmer, October 30, 2007
After 20 Years, October 23, 2007
A Conversation with Clyde Jenkins, October 22, 2007

Copyright 2007, Jazz Society of Oregon