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Biggest event ever has star lineup, free shows, tributes to Sinatra



Photo Credit: PHOTOS COURTESY OF PORTLAND JAZZ FESTIVAL - Becca Stevens is a multi-talented singer-songwriter, making music in pop, rock, jazz and hip-hop and will perform solo and in collaboration at the Portland Jazz Festival, which began this week.About 17,000 jazz fans are expected to attend about 30 shows during the 12th annual Portland Jazz Festival, which kicked off Feb. 17, and runs through Sunday, March 1.

Designed to coincide with Black History Month, the festival features both ticketed and free performances all over town, as well as workshops, the schedules of which can be found at http://www.portlandjazzfestival.org.

Performers include Stanley Jordan, Darrell Grant, Mary Sue Tobin, Tahirah Memory and Jarrod Lawson, Vijay Ijer, Greta Matassa, Karla Harris and Mark Simon, Ron Carter and Benny Green Trio, the Devin Phillips Quartet, Ben Darwish, Dan Balmer and Caminhos Cruzados, The Blue Cranes, the Blueprints Trio with Mike Horsfall, the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, and Lucky Peterson.

Festival Managing Director Don Lucoff notes this is the longest festival ever. About 76 percent of the audience is from the Portland area, with the remainder coming from Seattle, California and, interestingly, New York City.

“Our audience skews older, 45 to 50-plus,” he says. “But we have one of the youngest audiences out of all the arts organizations in town.”

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF PORTLAND JAZZ FESTIVAL - Ron Carter, who has collaborated with some great ones, shares a bill with Benny Green Trio at Portland Jazz Festival.This year’s festival features a number of youngish performers, including pianist Taylor Eigsti, 30, who will participate in a “Jazz Conversation” at noon Feb. 19 with Grant and Becca Stevens at Portland State University. He will perform at 7 p.m. the same day at First Congregational Church, 1126 S.W. Park Ave., with a trio, as well as with Joel Harrison’s Free Country Ensemble at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 21, at Classic Pianos, 3003 S.E. Milwaukie Ave. (next to the Aladdin Theater), and at 2 p.m. Feb. 22 with Stevens at Classic Pianos.

Stevens is a singer-songwriter and guitarist who plays pop, rock, jazz and even hip-hop. She’s made music with her own band as well as with Eigsti, Brad Mehldau, Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke. For her festival debut, Stevens will perform solo and with Eigsti, and serve as an adjudicator and collaborate with Billy Childs’ Laura Nyro project at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 in the Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway St. This show features the Nicholas Payton Trio and Billy Childs’ Map To The Treasure, as well as Alicia Olatuja.

Stevens and Eigsti recorded “Daylight at Midnight,” released in 2010, and Eigsti says the pair will likely perform some tunes off that album.

“Beyond that, I usually like to figure out the set list pretty last-minute, so I’m not quite sure what we’re going to play yet,” he says. “That’s the fun of it — we try as a group to focus on the present moment as much as possible.”

Precocious prodigy

Growing up in Menlo Park, Calif., Eigsti says he was inspired to play piano by his sister, Shannon, who died from cancer when she was 17 and he was 3.

“She was a jazz and rock pianist, and I kind of wanted to do what she did,” he says. “I was only really considered a ‘prodigy’ because I was young and playing music. I don’t think I possessed any special gifts other than really enjoying what I was doing.”

Noted for his rhythmic command of the keys, Eigsti says all types of music inspire him to play, “in addition to being inspired by sounds, textures, life and people just as much. Sometimes I like the sound I get out of the piano to emulate different textures, like rhythm guitar, or drums, or a voice, so my emphasis is largely on creating something that sounds human and honest.”

He particularly enjoys writing for symphony orchestras, and also has worked on movie scores.

“I’ve also had the great opportunity to write for choir, large ensembles, small ensembles, duos — just about every context,” he adds.

Century of Sinatra

The festival also highlights the fact Frank Sinatra was born 100 years ago this year, and shows feting Ol’ Blue Eyes include Art Abrams Swing Machine performing at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, in the Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway St.

Abrams group features four trumpeters, an equal number of trombonists, a quintet of sax players, a pianist, bassist and drummer. Much-acclaimed vocalist Kurt Elling will provide the pipes.

“He makes you believe the lyrics,” Abrams says of Elling. “He takes well-known songs and makes them his own. He has all the stage presence that Frank Sinatra was known for.”

The shows will focus on mid-60s Sinatra/Basie collaborations recorded for Reprise, which featured Quincy Jones orchestrations and Neal Hefti arrangements spread over three albums including: “Sinatra-Basie: An Historic First” from 1962; “It Might as Well Be Swing” (1964) and Sinatra’s first live album, “Sinatra at the Sands (1966).”

“This was a period ... where he had matured as a class act,” Abrams says of Sinatra. “He had many personal problems going on, and they all came out with lots of emotion in his singing.”

Other shows

Feb. 20: The Bill Charlap Trio Swings Sinatra: “In The Wee Small Hours.” 10 p.m. Winningstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway.

Feb. 23: Nettwork Trio — Charnett Moffett, Stanley Jordan & Jeff “Tain” Watts, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Jimmy Mak’s, 221 N.W. 10th Ave.

Feb. 24: Mary Kadderly & Nancy King 7 p.m. West Cafe, 1201 S.W. Jefferson St. Free.

Feb. 25: Marc Cary: For The Love of Abbey - A Tribute to Abbey Lincoln, 7:30 p.m. Classic Pianos, 3003 S.E. Milwaukie Ave.

Feb. 26: Xavier Tabera & The Classical Band, 6 p.m. Brasserie Montmarte, 626 S.W. Park Ave.

Feb. 27: PSU Vocal Duo: Paul Paresa & Miles Forte, 6:30 p.m. Hotel Monaco, 506 S.W. Washington St. Free.

March 1: Bassist and music academic Ron Carter has made more than 2,000 records and has played with B.B. King, Cannonball Adderley and a Tribe Called Qwest as well as jammed in the Miles Davis Quintet. You can hear him along with the Benny Green Trio, which features Green on piano, David Wong on bass, and Rodney Green on drums, at 3 p.m. in the Newmark

Theatre.

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