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Jazz fest puts bounce in Rose City

PSU's Grant gets his turn in spotlight as Jamal, Marsalis, Metheny perform


The Pat Metheny Unity Group Around 18,000 music fans will take in shows by about 150 performers at several venues Feb. 20 through March 2 during the annual Portland Jazz Festival, which takes place each February to coincide with Black History Month.

You can view the schedule, along with ticket information, at portlandjazzfestival.org.

Among the artists set to perform are Bobby Watson & Horizon, Eliane Elias, Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band, the Yellowjackets, the Kenny Werner Trio, Geoff Keezer, Karla Harris, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Aaron Diehl, Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio with Lew Tabackin, Bob Dorough & Dave Frishberg, Janice Scroggins, Marilyn Keller, Dan Tord Gustavsen Quartet, James Carter and his Organ Trio and the Grace Kelly Quartet.

Don Lucoff, the festival’s managing director, notes attendance is expected to increase 10 to 15 percent from last year’s festival. Some of this year’s biggest names include:

Ahmad Jamal The agile, eloquent and melodic pianist is a giant of post-war jazz, which he prefers to call “American classical music.” He has influenced musicians from his late great friend Miles Davis to Nas and Common. Jamal is still recording, his most recent release being 2013’s “Saturday Morning.” He will participate in a “jazz conversation” with Portland State University’s Darrell Grant at noon on Thursday, Feb. 20, in the university’s Lincoln Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave. Jamal’s Feb. 21 performance at Newmark Theatre is already sold out.

A king of improvisation, Jamal has been writing since he was 10, and draws on big band, bebop and the electronic age for inspiration, he says.

“If I have something develop that I believe has permanent value, I commit to manuscript,” he adds.

• Wynton Marsalis Even if you don’t know jazz, you probably have heard of Marsalis, who lives and literally breathes jazz history through his trumpet. Marsalis performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway, with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, featuring members of his septet and surviving members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Pat Metheny The guitar great will take the stage at Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 2.

The 20-time Grammy Award winning guitarist has played with Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Jack DeJohnette, David Bowie and countless others.

Metheny has done everything from help create contemporary jazz guitar music to actually develop guitars. He’s promoting a new album and will perform with the Unity Band, which features saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Antonio Sanchez and percussionist Giulio Carmassi.

Buster Williams The bassist, who’s played with Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Sonny Stitt, will participate in a “jazz conversation” with pianist George Colligan at ArtBar & Bistro, 1111 S.W. Broadway, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22.

Then, at 7 p.m. the same day, Williams will play at the Newmark with Something More, featuring trombonist Julian Priester, multi-reedist Benny Maupin, Colligan and drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana.

• The Spring Quartet It features Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano, Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding and Leo Genovese. The group will hold a “conversation” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, in the ArtBar & Bistro, and then play the Newmark at 7:30 p.m. that same day.

Darrell Grant The PSU professor and pianist performs “The Territory,” a one-hour jazz suite commissioned by Chamber Music Northwest, at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, in Winningstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway. The nine-movement piece blends improvisation and composition and draws inspiration from Oregon’s history and landscapes. Grant will be joined by vibraphonist Joe Locke, bassist Eric Gruber, drummer Tyson Stubelek, saxophonist John Nastos, bass clarinetist Kurt Peterson, trumpeter Tom Barber, singer Marilyn Keller and cellist Hamilton Cheifetz.

Grant also performs with the PDX Jazz Educators Septet at the city’s premier jazz club, Jimmy Mak’s, 221 N.W. 10th Ave., at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, and will participate in other shows and events during the festival.

The popular teacher counts Spalding among his former students — “She had something you could see, even before she had the skill to express it,” he says — and adds that he loves sharing his knowledge with others.

“What brings me joy as a teacher is helping students see their potential, and being in an environment that celebrates exploration and mastery,” Grant says. “Over the years, I’ve become more clear about music’s potential in the world. I don’t think my teaching has changed in response to the students, but in response to the ways our culture has changed over time. I’ve enjoyed integrating technology like YouTube and blogs into my teaching.”

Helen Sung Helen Sung A native of Houston, the pianist tickles the ivories at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, in Jimmy Mak’s.

Sung’s story is one of a good girl gone jazz, a classically trained musician who fell in love with the music. Back in the 1990s, Sung had a teacher who told her “the only music worth listening to was classical music.

“I would almost feel a little guilty sneaking off to listen to Michael Jackson or Madonna with my friends,” she says with a chuckle.

She caught a show by Harry Connick Jr., and like Saul getting blinded on the way to Tarsus, she converted to jazz overnight. “I remember being struck by this guy playing piano,” Sung says. “I felt like I wanted to jump out of my skin.”

She stayed in her skin, but wound up studying jazz full-time, eventually landing a coveted spot in famed bassist Ron Carter’s septet at the Theolonius Monk Institute of Jazz Performance in Boston.

“He worked us hard for two years,” she says, adding that, post-graduation, she’s collaborated with Carter.

She’s also become a headliner and much acclaimed recording artist — Wynton Marsalis is a huge fan, for one. Her most recent release is “Anthem for a New Day,” and she credits Northwest Brewing Company for helping her career.

Her new album means she’s “planting her flag,” she says. “I’m here, and I want to be part of the story of jazz.”