Tunes across the Pacific: 'Sellwood Jazz' plays in Taiwan
David Stone taught music in Portland Public Schools for nineteen years, nine of them at Duniway Elementary School in Eastmoreland. Now in retirement, one of his projects has been to gather together eight musicians into a band named after his neighborhood – "Sellwood Jazz".
This ensemble, in which Stone plays trombone and sings, has turned out to be a popular band. Sellwood Jazz plays at "Arrivederci", a few senior center evening shows, and at private dances.
In October of 2015, Michael Bostwick, President of the Portland/Kaohsiung Sister City Association (PKSCA), heard Sellwood Jazz at a benefit for the Jefferson Dancers. Subsequently, Sellwood Jazz was invited first by PKSCA, and then by the municipality of Kaohsiung, to play in March of 2016.
This year they were again invited to represent Portland from March 1st through 4th at the "Lantern Festival", one of the most important celebration of lights in Taiwan. It is held annually on the banks of the Love River.
Before leaving for Taiwan in late February, Sellwood Jazz was busy with numerous practices, memorizing 20 tunes to perform for the people of Kaohsiung at six venues. Sellwood Jazz was accompanied by a delegation that included PKSCA President Bostwick, 2017 Rose Queen Michaela Canete, and Rosarian Prime Minister Adam Baker.
David Stone views Sellwood Jazz as amounting to professional music ambassadors. In Kaohsiung they play for the general public along Love River; march in the Lantern Festival Parade; and perform at a senior center, an orphanage, and at the Buddhist School for the Disadvantaged. Sellwood Jazz also performs for the auspicious Mayor's Luncheon, along with the other entertainers from other sister cities attending the festival. According to Nathan Seaman of Sellwood Jazz, "Americans are a rare sight in Taiwan."
Kaohsiung has been a Portland Sister City since 1988, when it was officially approved by Portland City Council as Portland's ninth Sister City. Kaohsiung is known for contributing all of the dragon boats for Portland's dragon boat races, and for bringing the award-winning Shu-Te Commercial High School Marching Band and Drill Team to march in Portland's annual Rose Parade. The purpose of the Portland Kaohsiung Sister City Association is to promote people-to-people exchanges of educational, artistic, and cultural activities.
When officials in Kaohsiung learned that Stone's wife, Lisa Revell, was an exercise teacher, they contacted her in Portland before they left last year and asked if she would teach a class at a Kaohsiung senior center. Revell was asked again this year to lead a 30-minute session of exercises.Used to teaching twenty or so seniors in her Sellwood and Creston-Kenilworth "Better Bones and Balance" classes, Revell was somewhat surprised at finding herself in Kaohsiung teaching a group of 300 seniors – seventy, eighty and even ninety years old. "The Taiwan seniors enjoyed it so much last time, clearly it was required for Lisa to do this again!" grins David Stone of his wife's contribution.
To conclude the exercise class, Sellwood Jazz played a tango, as the seniors matched Lisa's moves with some verbal instructions in Mandarin. The Taiwanese loved it, Stone says.
Asked by THE BEE about the highlight of this year's trip, Stone remarked, "Every event offered something worth remembering for the rest of one's life. I can recall our first trip – first day, we had a very young and extremely talented [Taiwanese] twenty-year old bass player who exuberantly exhorted, 'This is the best day my life'.
"My favorite moment was playing in front of a huge gold-colored statue of Buddha at the School for the Disadvantaged, and joining forces with their school concert band to play a standard jazz tune, 'Killer Joe'. It was a real 'coming together' to make music between two diverse and beautiful cultures."