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Musicians, family and friends say farewell to pianist Scroggins

by: COURTESY OF SCROGGINS FAMILY - A memorial service for pianist Janice Scroggins is planned Wednesday in Portland.Janice M. Scroggins, who died May 27 from an apparent heart attack at the age of 58, was one of Portland's most "in-demand pianists," according to members of the Rose City's musical community.

Take singer Linda Hornbuckle, with whom Scroggins collaborated for three decades. Hornbuckle and Scroggins were a well-known duo and released an album, "Sista," in 2009. Scroggins was an easy person with whom to work, Hornbuckle said.

"That's why everyone wanted to work with her," Hornbuckle said. "Anyone that knew her knew how quiet she was and how refrained she was, but she was very adamant about her music."

A virtual who's who of the local blues, jazz and gospel scenes will gather at 7 p.m. Monday, June 9, in the Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 N.E. Alberta St., to pay tribute to Scroggins as well as raise money for her family.

"For the Love of Janice: A Musical Celebration of Janice Scroggins" will feature The LaRhonda Steele Family, Curtis Salgado, Norman Sylvester, Linda Hornbuckle, Thara Memory, Lyndee Mah, Mary Flower, Myrtle Brown, Duffy Bishop & Chris Carlson, Lloyd Jones, Patrick Lamb, Reggie Houston, Michael Allen Harrison, Terry Robb, Peter Dammann, Sonny Hess, Julianne Johnson, Louis Pain, Brian Ward, Dave Fleschner, Alan Hagar, Mike Doolin, Lisa Mann, Ken DeRouchie, Brian Foxworth, Tony Ozier, Devin Phillips, the Portland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Emmett Wheatfall and others.

Tickets are $26 (Supporter), $50 (Sponsor), $88 (Player) and $150 (Super Fan). A parent or guardian must accompany a minor.

If you can't make the show, you can go to any Wells Fargo in town and donate to the "Janice M. Scroggins Memorial Fund."

Fond farewell

Scroggins' funeral service was set to take place Wednesday, June 4, at 11 a.m. in Vancouver First Baptist Church, 3138 N. Vancouver Ave. Viewing was to take place at 9 a.m. prior to the service.

Born in Idabel, Okla., in 1955, she began playing piano at the age of three, and credited her grandmother with teaching her the stride-influenced left hand style she used. She moved to Oregon in 1979, and gradually became known in the local music scene, playing with Memory, Linda Hornbuckle, Obo Addy, Sylvester, Jones, Salgado and many others.

Her 1987 album "Janice Plays Scott Joplin" was considered for a Grammy, and she also played on Esperanza Spalding's Grammy-winning "Radio Music Society."

"Janice Scroggins was, quite honestly, too deep for me when I was eight years old," Spalding said in a press release for her album. "She unifies completely the sounds of gospel, blues and jazz, our American roots music."

Scroggins is survived by her brother, George C. Scroggins; her daughters: Arietta Ward and Nafisaria Scroggins-Thomas; her son, Francis Scroggins-Ocansey; her grandson, Jamani Ward-Lewis; granddaughter, Godyss Love; as well as her soon to be born grandson, Phoenix Smith, who is due June 23.

Arietta Ward said her mother was a humble, studious player, who could perform classical, jazz, fusion, world beat, blues, gospel and other styles.

"She said, 'Music is healing, and we're in the healing business. We help people.'"

Ward, a singer with the DooDoo Funk All-Stars as well as the Ken DeRouchie Band, added that her mother continually refined her craft.

"She knew so many songs," Ward said. "She could recall them and play them in every key."

That library of knowledge — which Scroggins literally shared to the end, having died after playing piano for a music class at Portland Community College's Sylvania campus — never failed to impress, Hornbuckle said.

"Every time I sat down beside her or stood up beside her I always learned something," the singer said. "She was constantly teaching."

Blues guitarist-singer Sylvester had similar memories of Scroggins. He said he invited her to sit in on a rehearsal with a trio he led in 1984.

"Janice set up her keyboard, looked at our set list and had us play the set for her," he said. "She didn’t say a word as she sat and listened. When we finished our set list, she asked us to play the set list again, and this time she joined us. I noticed what she was adding musically to my melodies, and it brought tears to my eyes. She added the love, emotion and her genius musicianship that I from then on was blessed with. She became my keyboard player, friend, sister, healer and mentor for the next 30 years."

Musical memories

Scroggins was both a member of the Cascade Blues Association Hall of Fame as well as the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, and performed with the Oregon Symphony as well as at the Waterfront Blues Festival and the Portland Jazz Festival. Music Millennium owner and OMHF President Terry Currier inducted her last year into the latter, noting he first heard in the 1980s, when she was tickling the ivories for The Esquires.

'It was a really great band with an all-star cast of Carlton Jackson, Jan Celt, Rich Halley and Warren Rand playing cool funky grooves," Currier said. "As the years went by, she started popping up playing with others in town."

Along with others, Currier said there was "magic" when Scroggins took the stage.

"She always accented whatever musical setting she was in and never was one to showboat," he said. "She could play all genres of music even though she was found mostly playing blues and gospel."

Currier said he was glad he got to induct her into the hall.

"This meant a lot to her as we talked the months leading up to the induction ceremony," he said. "And when she gave her acceptance speech, you could feel the emotion, just like you could feel it in her playing every time she was behind the keyboards. There will never be another Janice."

When she was inducted last year, Scroggins told the Tribune she loved living in Portland because it allowed her to tickle the ivories for a wide variety of musicians.

“It’s just been wonderfully eclectic for all these years I’ve played, and it’s a wonderful place to come up with different ideas," she said.