This Month in Oregon History: Jazz Appreciation Month and National Poetry Month

 

 
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Jazz in Oregon

 

  

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Ivories

Janice Scroggins
It is unusual for musicians to achieve the respect of peers and professional success in more than one field. Pianist, music director, educator, and composer Janice Scroggins did. Between her arrival in Portland in 1979 and her death at age fifty-eight in 2014, she played a central role in the blues, gospel, and jazz communities. Such a wide scope was possible for the Oklahoma native due to her command of the common elements underlying those styles. As Esperanza Spalding, 2012 Grammy Artist of the Year and former Scroggins student, said: “She unifies completely the sounds of gospel, blues and jazz—our American roots music.” Scroggins wrote on the CD cover for Theresa Demarest’s recording Good Company, on which she played piano: “I come from a musical family, raised with Gospel, Classical, Movie Themes, Blues….I've had the good fortune of playing any type of music I want to with great artists.”

Eddie Wied
Known as “the Professor,” jazz pianist Eddie Wied was an influential teacher and exemplary player during the years he lived in Portland. His work as a teacher and mentor to younger players, in addition to his regular nightclub performances, provided a crucial link between Portland’s jazz past and the jazz scene in the twenty-first century. As a mature player, he remained rooted in the bebop of the 1940s. The intelligence and fluidity of his approach were reminiscent of modernist piano players such as Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, but his favorite pianist was Jimmy Rowles, a personal friend from Spokane, Wied’s hometown.

Darrell Grant
A pianist, vocalist, composer, and educator, Darrell Grant arrived in Portland in 1997 with a national reputation. His contributions to the area jazz scene quickly elevated him to prominence based not only on his high level of musicianship but also on the attention and legitimacy he brought to jazz education and performance. Most notable has been his work on the Portland State University (PSU) music faculty, where he helped establish a major in jazz studies, founded the Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute, and managed LV’s Uptown, the university’s jazz club (2005-2008).

William McClendon
William McClendon was a writer, journalist, intellectual, activist, and jazz musician who was a prominent member of Portland’s civil rights community from 1938 until his death in 1996. He was the founder and editor of the Portland Observer, a short-lived but vitally important newspaper that focused on issues facing African Americans in Portland before and during World War II.


Strings

Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding’s fierce talent in double bass and vocal work earned her a Grammy in 2011 for Best New Artist, making her the first jazz musician and one of only four Oregonians to ever win that award. She won three more Grammys in 2013 and 2014, one of them shared with her mentor, Portland jazz trumpeter Thara Memory. Not only did Spalding master singing while playing bass, but she also distinguished herself as a woman in the male-dominated jazz genre within the even narrower pool of female double bass players.

 

Glen Moore
As a founding member of the pioneering chamber jazz group, Oregon, Glen Moore helped redefine jazz in the late twentieth century. His love for the European symphonic tradition began as a child in Milwaukie, Oregon, where he was trained on both bass and piano. He performed around the state in his teens as a member of The Young Oregonians (which also included saxophonist Jim Pepper). Moore provided the best summary of his work in a 2006 interview: “Using the technique of the classical guitar in order to expand the vocabulary of pizzicato bass is probably the thing I’ve spent most of my life learning and teaching.” For more than thirty years, he has played a Klotz bass fiddle crafted in the Tyrol in about 1715, on which he has made extensive use of a unique tuning with both a low and high C string. Outside the group Oregon, Moore has appeared on 28 albums with musicians such as David Friesen, Carla Bley, and Jerry Hahn. He has written music for and arranged lyrics by his wife, Samantha Moore, for three CDs with Nancy King.
  Oregon
When trying to account for the variety of musical elements Oregon deploys, it is more economical to list what it does not include (as many as fifty instruments have been used at one time or another). Reviewers have called Oregon’s music “jazz and world infused new age sound,” but that neglects their classicism and spectacular musicianship. The quartet has a loyal following in Oregon, where two of the founders were raised, but their celebrity resides in New York, Europe, South America, and Asia.

 

Marianne Mayfield (Hill)
During more than thirty years on the Portland jazz scene, singer and bassist Marianne Mayfield was a rare female instrumentalist in a male-dominated jazz world and was proud of her place in it. “I’m grateful for…the fact that I have enjoyed the respect of my contemporaries, the musicians, the guys. Not as a woman but as a musician and as a person,” she said in a 1985 interview. She also faced obstacles as an African American entertainer. When she started performing in the early 1950s, she couldn’t enter through the venue’s front door nor could her mother sit in the audience. 

Leroy Vinnegar
Though he spent only the last thirteen years of a long career in Portland, celebrated bassist Leroy Vinnegar became a central figure in the local jazz scene. In 1995, the Oregon legislature honored his contributions to the cultural life of the state by designating May 1 as Leroy Vinnegar Day. The Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute at Portland State University was named in his honor, and in 1998, Vinnegar became the first member of the Jazz Society of Oregon’s Hall of Fame. Dark Horses Comics, published in Milwaukie, created a vignette (by Arnold Pander and Diane Schutz) featuring Vinnegar for an anthology series titled Dark Horse Presents (No. 97).


Drums 

Mel Brown
If one had to choose a single musician to represent the history of jazz in Portland, it would be drummer and bandleader Mel Brown. One of the most active, influential, and respected artists in the area jazz scene since the 1970s, Brown’s roots are in Portland’s historic jazz district that flourished along Williams Avenue in the 1940s and 1950s. Just as he was brought into jazz as a teenager, he helps train and nurture later generations of musicians. Brown is a master of the hard bop style, associated with drummer and bandleader Art Blakey, as well as straight-ahead bebop and soul jazz styles. In the 1980s, he began building the Mel Brown Sextet, which performed regularly at The Hobbit in southeast Portland and reached its peak with a 1989 recording, Gordon Bleu: The Mel Brown Sextet Plays the Music of Gordon Lee, and a performance at the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles. He also began working with the legendary Los Angeles transplant and bassist Leroy Vinnegar, and developed a Hammond B-3 organ quintet that helped launch a revival of soul jazz in Portland. Brown continued using those three formats in the years that followed, primarily at Jimmy Mak’s, whose music policy he helped shape.

Ted Hallock
Ted Hallock, by any measure, was a man of astonishing talent and scope, achieving prominence as a hero of World War II, a state senator and debater, a musician and jazz band leader, an award-winning radio personality, a successful public relations executive, and a political leader who was instrumental in bringing land-use planning to Oregon. He was a fierce advocate, with a withering sarcasm for those who opposed his causes, many of which were visionary.


Brass

Thara Memory
Thara John Memory is a trumpeter player, composer, educator, and activist in the Portland jazz community. In 2011, the Portland Jazz Festival named him an Oregon Jazz Master, and he was selected as a Portland Jazz Hero by the Jazz Journalists Association in 2014. In 2013, Memory won a Grammy award for his arrangement of “City of Roses,” on the album Radio Music Society, by his former student Esperanza Spalding. He received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music (Massachusetts) in May 2014. 

Jim Pepper
Tenor saxophonist Jim Pepper was an internationally recognized and influential jazz musician. He is best remembered for "Witchi-Tai-To," his elaboration of a Comanche peyote chant learned from his grandfather Ralph Pepper, a ceremonial leader of the Kaw Tribe in Oklahoma. "Witchi-Tai-To" may be the most recorded and performed Native American song of all time. Pepper had a lifelong fascination with the interface between Native and African Americans and considered a State Department-sponsored tour of West Africa in 1980 to be a defining experience. For an urban, largely assimilated, half-blood Indian, village life in Africa vivified a connection with the traditional life of his origins.

Cleve Williams
Trombonist and singer Cleveland "Cleve" Williams Jr. was an important musician in a jazz scene that thrived in the African American neighborhood along Portland's Williams Avenue during the 1940s and 1950s. He was at the forefront of players who developed the bebop style in the city.


Vocalists

James “Sweet Baby James” Benton
James Benton has been a singer of jazz, blues, and R&B during two distinct eras in Portland's musical history. He first came to prominence in the 1950s, during the heyday of the African American entertainment district along North Williams Avenue, and performed steadily until the late 1960s. During that time, he also operated a performance space on North Williams Avenue that was an important gathering place for African American musicians. In 1960, Benton formed the Del Tones, a group that endured for seventeen years, performing in downtown Portland and in suburban locations such as the Beachcomber in Lake Oswego. The Del Tones also toured with bands such as the Benny Goodman Orchestra. It was also in 1960 that Benton acquired the nickname he has used ever after—Sweet Baby James—bestowed on him by a seaman known as Sweet Smellin' Eddie who frequented Williams Avenue.

 

Nancy King
For most of her career, Nancy King has been considered the Pacific Northwest's pre-eminent jazz singer. National recognition was slower to come, though she always received the praise of her peers. For twenty years, King was known as an underground classic—a supremely talented vocalist whose strict adherence to straightahead jazz and independent attitude at times got in the way of national tours and higher visibility. By the end of the 1990s, however, King had become one of the leading jazz singers in the world. An improvising musician in the tradition of singers Sheila Jordan, Betty Carter, and Ella Fitzgerald, King is a master of the bebop-based scat singing style made famous by Louis Armstrong, as well as the vocalese approach developed by singer and lyricist Jon Hendricks, in which jazz solos are set to lyrics.


Clubs

Jazz de Opus
One of the definitive nightclubs in the Portland jazz scene, Jazz de Opus presented touring jazz legends as well as many area performers from 1972 until it closed in 2003. During that time, the club, with space for fewer than 100 patrons, became a cultural nexus that reflected changing social and economic conditions. It was known around the country as the Oregon version of the Village Vanguard, the fabled New York club, and it contributed to Portland’s reputation as a thriving jazz city. Located in Portland's Old Town neighborhood at 33 N.W. 2nd Avenue, the club closed, said then-owner Gus Samander (who purchased the business in 1999) in a 2003 interview, because of declining audiences.

The Dude Ranch
The Dude Ranch was Portland’s premier jazz venue in the days just after World War II, when jazz clubs proliferated along North Williams Avenue, the center of the city’s African American community. In the early post-war years, racism, redlining (banks' refusal to lend money to people living in certain areas), and restrictive real estate practices forced African Americans to cluster in this small area. One of the few benefits of the overcrowding was an unusually high concentration of nightclubs, with names like Paul’s Paradise, the Frat Hall, and the Savoy, most of which featured jazz.

Golden West Hotel

The Golden West Hotel, located at Northwest Broadway and Everett Streets in Portland, was the first hotel in the city to accommodate African American patrons. For twenty-five years, from 1906 through 1931, it was a social center and a focal point of the black community, a place for African Americans of all ages to gather and socialize in a segregated and largely unfriendly city. On the lower floors of the hotel, there were several black-owned businesses, including a bar, a barbershop, an ice cream parlor, and an athletic club.



 

Oregon Poets

 

stafford   Fuller    

Poets Laureate

Edwin Markham
Born in Oregon City on April 23, 1852, Edwin Markham was known as the Dean of American Poetry, the Laureate of Labor, and—in his own words—the Poet Highwayman. His work as a poet and social reformer brought him recognition throughout the West and across the United States. He founded the Poetry Society of American in 1910 and served as Oregon’s first poet laureate, from 1923 to 1931.

Ethel Romig Fuller
Oregon’s first female poet laureate, from 1957 to 1965, succeeding Ben Hur Lampman as the third poet laureate in Oregon history. When she learned that the Oregonian was going to stop publishing poetry in the early 1930s, Fuller persuaded the paper to create a weekly poetry section. Insisting that poems from all over the world be published, not only those from Oregon, she edited the poetry section from the early 1930s to the late 1950s.

 

William Stafford
The poetry of William Stafford is contained in some fifty collections, selected in Stories That Could Be True (1977) and The Way It Is (1998). His poems are accessible, sometimes deceptively so, with a conversational manner that is close to everyday speech. Among predecessors whom he most admired are William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. Stafford was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1970 (present day poet laureate) and Oregon's poet laureate from 1975 to 1990. 

 

Lawson Fusao Inada
Poet, writer, and educator, Lawson Fusao Inada is an emeritus professor of English at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. In February 2006, Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed him Oregon's fifth poet laureate. In 1971, Inada's Before the War: Poems as They Happened was the first volume of poetry by an Asian American published by a major publishing house. He is the author of two other collections of poetry: Legends from Camp (1992), which won the American Book Award, and Drawing the Line (1997), which won an Oregon Book Award.


Pulitzer Prize winners

Phyllis McGinley
Phyllis McGinley, born in Ontario, Oregon, in 1905, was an award-winning poet and writer. A Pulitzer Prize winner, she was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in June 1965 and was one of only two poets (with Mark Van Doren) that year invited to the White House Festival of the Arts. She was the recipient of over a dozen honorary degrees and the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, and her anthologies of poetry and essays sold tens of thousands of copies.

 

Gary Snyder
Gary Snyder leaped from being a regional poet to national acclaim in 1974 with the publication of Turtle Island, which received the Pulitzer Prize the next year. Turtle Island was a political text that aimed to teach readers how to "be" in North America. Turtle Island, Snyder writes in the volume’s introductory note, is “the new/old name for the continent based on many creation myths of the people who have been living here for millennia.…A Name: That we may see ourselves more accurately on this continent of watersheds and life communities.”


Northwest Poetry Award

Ralph Salisbury
Ralph Salisbury is an Oregon poet, author, editor, and teacher. He is the author of eleven books of poetry, including Rainbows of Stone (2000), an Oregon Book Award finalist; three books of short fiction; and a memoir, So Far, So Good (2013)His work reflects his Native American and Irish heritage, his pacifism, and what he describes as a “devotion to harmony with nature.” A winner of the Northwest Poetry Award, he was also a Rockefeller Foundation Resident at the Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, Italy. He is professor emeritus of English at the University of Oregon, where he began teaching in 1960.


Reed College

Mary Barnard
In her literary memoir, Assault on Mount Helicon (1984), poet, translater, and classicistr Mary Barnard attributes her success to persistence in the face of unexpected obstacles and a willingness to challenge received wisdom. Her literary career took her from a childhood in the Oregon backwoods, where she often traveled with her timber-wholesaler father, to Reed College in Portland, where she was introduced to the classics and to the modern poetic revolution by Lloyd Reynolds.

 

Gary Snyder
Under the direction of Lloyd Reynolds and other teachers at Reed College, poet Gary Snyder became enraptured with Asian culture and indigenous peoples. His studies exposed him to the landscapes of Morris Graves and depictions of nature in Chinese scroll painting. His senior thesis was entitled “He Who Hunted Birds in His Father's Village: The Dimensions of a Haida Myth.” Timothy Gray, in Gary Snyder and the Pacific Rim: Creating Countercultural Community, quotes him as saying, “It is curious how in my thesis, I mapped out all of my major interests….Indigenous people bear the deepest insights into human nature and have the best actual way to live as well.”


International Themes

Kenneth O. Hanson
Poet Kenneth Ostlin Hanson lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of his life. In the nearly forty years he spent in Portland, Hanson wrote numerous collections and won many awards for his work, including the Theodore Roethke Award for Northwest poets (1964). Notably, Hanson did not write about the Northwest, as many of his regional contemporaries did. As one critic wrote: "No other Northwest poet of comparable achievement has written as much as Kenneth O. Hanson about places other than the Northwest.

 

Shizue Iwatsuki
A humble wife, mother, and public servant in Hood River, Shizue Iwatsuki was also an internationally recognized poet. She was imprisoned at Minidoka during World War II. A self-taught poet, Iwatsuki wrote tanka—poetry whose form is five lines of thirty-one syllables. In 1974, Emperor Hirohito recognized her as an award-winning poet, and the Japanese government honored her with the Sixth Class Order of the Precious Crown for her cultural achievements and community service. She was the first woman and the first Japanese American to be so honored. Also that year, Hood River County named her Woman of the Year.


War

William Everson
William Oliver Everson, a prominent poet in the San Francisco Renaissance, was also a master printer, Dominican lay brother, literary scholar, riveting speaker, and dynamic teacher. During World War II, he spent several years in Waldport, Oregon, at a fine arts camp for conscientious objectors. Everson’s poetry is noted for its spirituality, an erotic transcendentalism that often probed masculine/feminine archetypes, and for his investigation of humans’ struggle with aggression and war. Poet William Stafford described his language in The Achievement of Brother Antoninus as having a “rugged shock effect” and a “didactic moral tone.”

William Stafford
The poetry of William Stafford is contained in some fifty collections, selected in Stories That Could Be True (1977) and The Way It Is (1998). His poems are accessible, sometimes deceptively so, with a conversational manner that is close to everyday speech. Among predecessors whom he most admired are William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. Stafford was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1970 (present day poet laureate) and Oregon's poet laureate from 1975 to 1990. 

 

Lawson Fusao Inada
Poet, writer, and educator, Lawson Fusao Inada is an emeritus professor of English at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. In February 2006, Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed him Oregon's fifth poet laureate. In 1971, Inada's Before the War: Poems as They Happened was the first volume of poetry by an Asian American published by a major publishing house. He is the author of two other collections of poetry: Legends from Camp (1992), which won the American Book Award, and Drawing the Line (1997), which won an Oregon Book Award.


Southeast Oregon

Ada Hastings Hedges
One of the few authors associated with the wide expanse of the southeastern desert of Oregon, poet Ada Hastings Hedges published her only collection, Desert Poems, in 1930. She told Alfred Powers that the desert region had always fascinated her; she had found it “full of mystery and beauty in its own bleak fashion…strangely haunting and baffling.” The poems were written in traditional sonnet form, with a feminist outlook, informed by the acridness of the rough-edged railroad and cattle town Juntura and the surrounding sagebrushed “lava-miles … indifferent and timeless as the stars.”

 

Madeline DeFrees
"My poems," Madeline DeFrees told Contemporary Authors, "often begin with a new experience: a visit to the zoo, a tour of a newspaper plant, a foot reconstruction, or cataract surgery. Sometimes the 'trigger' is a phrase or sentence or sign: some language fragment that registers with particular intensity." Born in Ontario, Oregon, in 1919, her favorite book was the dictionary, and she was even "known to buy a fourth collegiate dictionary when on vacation at the beach because I couldn't exist without one."

C.E.S. Wood
Wood was a gifted public speaker and a talented, versatile writer of poetry, fiction, drama, satire, essay, articles, and occasional verse. Between 1904 and 1911, Wood wrote for The Pacific Monthly, a popular Portland magazine, publishing poems, stories, articles, book reviews, features, and a column called "Impressions." In "Portland's Feast of Roses," a 1908 article boosting the Rose Festival and the growing prosperity of Oregon, Wood paused to question the cutting of old-growth timber: "There is no spot where the primeval forest is assured from the attack of that worst of all microbes, the dollar." His politically charged Christmas verse (annual gifts) are beautiful examples of fine press printing. Wood's first book was A Book of Indian Tales (1901), myths and legends he collected while soldiering and exploring in the Northwest and Alaska. In 1904, he published A Masque of Love, a poetic drama defending free love.


The Beats

Gary Snyder
Many think of Gary Snyder, Pulitzer Prize-wining poet and essayist, as primarily a Beat writer or as a member of the San Francisco Renaissance. Certainly in his early career he was intimately associated with Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Kenneth Rexroth, but his writing was much more a product of the Northwest, particularly Oregon.

Vi Gale
Vi Gale's poems often originate in personal experiences and memories. A few contain Scandinavian recollections, and many demonstrate a keen sense of place. Though she never considered herself a Beat poet, she said she was greatly encouraged by the opening up of American poetry by the Beats, who used confessional forms to protest the conformity and conservatism of the 1950s. Over time, the slightly formal feel of the strict stanzaic patterns in her early work grew more relaxed and experimental. During the 1960s, she also connected with contemporary Swedish poetry, which she was able to read in the original language. For many years, she taught creative writing at the YWCA in Portland and around the state.


In Love

C.E.S. Wood
Wood was a gifted public speaker and a talented, versatile writer of poetry, fiction, drama, satire, essay, articles, and occasional verse. Between 1904 and 1911, Wood wrote for The Pacific Monthly, a popular Portland magazine, publishing poems, stories, articles, book reviews, features, and a column called "Impressions." In "Portland's Feast of Roses," a 1908 article boosting the Rose Festival and the growing prosperity of Oregon, Wood paused to question the cutting of old-growth timber: "There is no spot where the primeval forest is assured from the attack of that worst of all microbes, the dollar." His politically charged Christmas verse (annual gifts) are beautiful examples of fine press printing. Wood's first book was A Book of Indian Tales (1901), myths and legends he collected while soldiering and exploring in the Northwest and Alaska. In 1904, he published A Masque of Love, a poetic drama defending free love.

Sara Bard Field
Poet and suffragist Sara Bard Field lived in Portland in the early part of the twentieth century. Her poetry, her support of women’s suffrage, and her controversial relationship with Charles Erskine Scott Wood, a Portland cultural icon, made an indelible imprint on the history of Oregon. Their love affair shocked many Portlanders, but Field was undeterred by conventional moralities. In 1913, she moved to Nevada and secured a divorce, becoming a pioneer in the developing phenomenon of migratory divorce.

 

Miller loves Miller
On April 19, 1870, the court granted a divorce to Minnie Myrtle Miller, the "Poetess of the Coquille," and Joaquin Miller, the “Poet of the Sierras.” After a whirlwind courtship, the two had been married on September 12, 1862, in Curry County. In Memorie and Rime (1884), published after Minnie Myrtle's death, Joaquin Miller wrote: "I arrived on Thursday. On Sunday next we were married! Oh, to what else but ruin and regret could such romantic folly lead."


Perseverance

Hazel Hall
Hazel Hall fashioned poetry of remarkable originality and durability. Living in Portland, she helped support her mother and two sisters by taking in sewing, embroidering the sumptuous fabrics of bridal gowns, baby dresses, altar cloths, lingerie, and Bishop’s cuffs that would figure so lushly in her poems. She published three booksThe first, Curtains (1921), invites readers into a darkened, turbulent room, a place of “eternal winter.” As both seamstress and poet, she enjoyed the fortuitous coincidence of two activities that ingeniously referred to and informed one another, the interplay of stitch and song.

Raymond Carver
Born near Clakskanie on May 25, 1938, Raymond Carver was America’s preeminent short story-writer during the 1970s and 1980s, a time that witnessed a great renaissance of the art of the story. In his stories, and also his poems and essays, Carver recorded with poignancy and humor the financial and emotional bankruptcies that beset the working poor.