A celebrated, Grammy Award — winning Portland jazz teacher, Thara Memory, was arraigned Monday morning, accused of inappropriate contact with students and misdemeanor sex abuse.
Memory, who is 68, was indicted on 11 separate counts, mainly accusing him of inappropriate contact with female students' mouth, cheek or breast between 2013, and 2016. He pleaded not guilty.
The detective who investigated the case, Jeff Myers, declined to comment or otherwise provide details of the alleged contact.
The case threatens to divide Portland's small but vibrant jazz community, as one of his accusers has her own quartet and performs locally.
Memory's defenders in the jazz community, however, say there must be more to the story.
"It's absolutely unbelievable and astounding and I fail to believe any of it," said LeAnn Kritz, a friend of Memory's wife, and former "band mom" whose son was one of Memory's students before she helped him set up the nonprofit American Music Program, accompanied Memory to court Monday.
She's travelled cross-country with him and the program on numerous occasions, and "I never witnessed anything inappropriate with any of the students, either verbally, physically or anything." She called it "a sad day for music education in Portland."
S. Renee Mitchell, who collaborated with Memory on a jazz opera in 2011, is another supporter.
"I think that there's probably more to the story than just looking at a court document, because it's hard to believe that Thara would even put himself in that position to have a kid feel that he was touching her inappropriately," Mitchell said, adding that Memory has an uncompromising teaching style. "He's a tough administrator. He loves to push kids to their potential and I know not all students or parents like that."
Memory oversees the American Music Program Pacific Crest Jazz Orchestra, which accepts students from around the region. Many of his students have gone on to greater success, including Esperanza Spalding, a nationally known, award-winning musician for whom Memory was a mentor.
Spalding, in an e-mail, said she studied with Memory starting when she was 8 years old, and "had only positive experiences," though not always pleasant.
"At times when I was younger, Thara would tell me bluntly that I'd made a mistake, or been irresponsible by not practicing at home, or that I wasn't playing in tune. As an 8-year-old, or 15-year-old, that would hurt my young feelings.
"But, I chose to stick around in these educational environments because I felt safe and supported," she added. "His verbal style doesn't work for all students (or their parents) who often take his critique as a personal affront to their personhood or feelings."
Memory is a diabetic with a prosthetic leg, who walks with a cane. He undergoes dialysis sessions several times a week and often uses an oxygen tank.
The indictment lists four alleged victims, two of whom were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged abuse. It lists one count of harassment, two of attempted third-degree sexual abuse, and eight of third-degree sexual abuse. None of the crimes alleged are felonies.