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The Skanner News – Summer of Sound celebrates the Black Jazz and Soul heritage of Portland, Elders

Portland’s jazz and soul scenes are rarely held next to genre meccas like Memphis or Chicago. As musician Charlie Brown III argues, it’s not for lack of talent.

Charlie Brown III“There’s so much music history rooted in so many places, like Memphis and Chicago,” Brown said. The Skander. “In Portland, there’s kind of a lack of that, and with my generation, there’s not a lot of talk about what the music scene in Portland was like and what was playing.”

Brown is a multi-genre pianist who spends much of the year on tour. He appreciates that growing up in northeast Portland meant he came amid a vibrant, if under-recognized, musical heritage.

This summer, Brown will join forces with alumni from (the Portland music scene), local contemporaries, and the folks at the Albina Music Trust and the World Arts Foundation to resurrect a local tradition with Time Sound: Albina’s Jazz Reimagined.

The event, scheduled for July 17 to wrap up the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, is part of the larger Summer of Sound festival, and its lineup includes several generations of local black artists. Sponsors include the City of Portland, the Oregon Historical Society, Vanport Mosaic, and the American Rescue Plan Act.

“In this multi-generational piece you have musicians like Tahirah Memory, Ariana Ward – their parents were part of the original Time Sound,” said Bobby Smith, co-founder of the Albina Music Trust. The Skander.

“So you’re really getting the next generation to pick up the slack now.”

“It’s going to be a storytelling type thing,” Brown said. “We’re going to play some old tunes, we’re going to have the oldies speak on behalf of some of the ancient history and soul scene in Portland.

“It will be a kind of generational potluck.”

“Memory Activism”

summer of her bobby smith introBobby SmithSmith co-founded the Albina Music Trust in 2015, along with Oregon Music Hall of Famer and funk veteran Calvin Walker.

“It stems from a relationship between and the World Arts Foundation,” Smith said. “I helped found XRay, and as a community radio station, we realized, ‘Hey, we’re located on Albina in the heart of what used to be the black community. We want to make room for some elders here,” so we opened our doors. The more we did it, the more people, musicians, came. Before long they were bringing in photographs, reel to reel and tape, so we think we made good use of the resources we had to help digitize the material.

Kenneth Berry, who sits on the board of directors of the World Arts Foundation, has embarked on the archiving project. For the past 50 years has been active in the jazz and soul scene and in music education in North Portland.

“I’ve been fortunate to have videos, audio tapes, etc., material from our performances over the years,” Berry said. The Skander. “Bobby basically trained me to archive information (digitally). I have about 15, 20 barrels full of information – newspaper articles, photos, videos, audio tapes – and we do this from our offices at the Black United Fund of Oregon We have five people that we have hired to help us archive all of this information so that we can make it available not only to civic and social organizations, but also to the general public through the website.

Seven years later, “the collaboration has gone a little deeper,” Smith said. One of the Albina Music Trust’s goals has been to release a range of LPs containing recordings by North Portland artists, largely using recordings from the 1970s and 1980s. So far, the organization released albums by The Gangsters, Slickaphonic, The Legendary Beyons, Transport and Carl Smith and the Natural Gas Company, with further releases slated for August.

“I think it’s important to distinguish between what a music trust is and what a record company is,” Smith said.

“The concept, originally, was to document this music and make it an arts and education type of opportunity, not to be some sort of transactional relationship with musicians where we sign contracts.”

summer of sound kenneth berry introKenneth BerrySome of these bands, like The Gangsters, had their time in the studio a long time ago, only to have their tracks stored away for decades. For others, like Slickaphonic, these albums are literally remastered recordings straight out of the basement.

“With the lack of a recording industry in Portland, (black musicians) were doing these tapes and demos just to get gigs, rather than recording for the music industry,” Brown said.

As for bands whose performances have yet to be pressed on vinyl, the Albina Music Trust is making their work available for streaming. on line.

“It’s memory activism,” Smith said.

“We are here to expose or amplify lost history.”

Memory plays an important role

In fact, much of this year’s Summer of Sound would be shaped by jazz musician and educator Thara Memory, who passed away in 2017.

“He was such an outstanding musician, he was like another Quincy Jones in terms of his understanding of music, his theory, his ability to connect with others in terms of teaching,” Berry said of Memory. , whom he considered a close friend.

Brown considers Memory his mentor.

“I was part of the American music program from middle school through high school,” Brown said. “I am the only musician in my family, but it has always marked me, it has always been something moving for me. And then finding a good match in Thara Memory was definitely the turning point in my life, like, “I can do this seriously for a long time.”

Brown added, “For me, Esperanza Spalding and tons of people working in the industry right now, he’s organized a lot of kids coming out of Portland.”

summer of his domo charlie fullMusicians Charlie Brown III (left) and Domo Branch, both of Brown Branch, will perform Time Sound this year.
Berry met Memory in 1968, when Memory was passing through town with his band and needed an organist.

“At the time, I was playing a B3 Hammond,” Berry said. “That was my orientation to Thara Memory.”

For nearly a month, the band performed at the Upstairs Lounge.

“Then Thara asked me, ‘If I stay here, would you mind being in a band?’ So we created this band called Shades of Brown. But Thara also wanted to do more than just be a musician. His background was pedagogical, teaching music in South Florida. He wasn’t just a music teacher, he was also a band manager who did a lot of stuff with marching bands and all that.

“He wanted to work with young people and adults. He put together a city-wide program to meet some of the needs of musicians who played when they were younger, they grew up and they looked great, but they had challenges in life and had can -be abandoned the music. He brought them together with other musicians with whom he played regularly. That program became the Creative Jazz Orchestra, and we did a full concert in what is now the Keller Auditorium, where we raised money for them.

In keeping with the band’s name, Memory’s goal was to incorporate “everything from African drumbeats to Tchaikovsky,” Berry said. Soon, Berry assembled a vocal group to accompany the orchestra.

Noticing that the group had a significant number of educators, Memory joined Greg McKelvey, a longtime music teacher at Battle Ground High School, and music teacher Ronnie Harrison to create a smaller group for students. : the Cultural Recreation Band.

The non-profit “has been working to secure funds to be able to provide instruments for children, not just necessarily to rent, but to pay for these instruments so that these children have these instruments to be able to move forward,” said Berry said. “And we’ve seen results with some of that. Esperanza Spalding, for example, is one of the students in the program. There are others who have gone on and done professional work, all over the world right now, thanks to Thara.

“That’s how Time Sound started,” Berry said. “Thanks to Bobby Smith, Albina Music Trust, as well as Charlie and Domo (Branch) – they kind of recreate what Thara was doing back then. Trying to preserve her history, her memory, and also these are products from Thara, and we cannot forget (pianist and instructor) Janice Scroggins, who has been instrumental in working with Thara over the years.

Berry will serve as emcee at this year’s Time Sound.

“It’s sort of a recreation of that time of Thara’s work and all of our work over the years to try to make sure that we preserve (that history), that we pass that on to young people, kind of like passing the relay on,” Berry said. “So Charlie and Domo (Branch), they’re basically going to recreate some of Thara’s orchestration pieces, and we’re going to be able to kind of recreate that era and that era that was so important.”

Time Sound: Albina’s Jazz Reimagined takes place Sunday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at Cathedral Park Jazz Festival and Saturday, August 6 at 6 p.m. at Washington Park Rose Garden.

Other Summer of Sound events:

  • Soul Conversation, an oral history panel with former Albina musicians. Thursday, July 14 at 7 p.m., Alberta House (5131 NE 23rd Ave.)
  • Wall to Wall Soul, artistic opening and album release listening evening. Thursday, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m., Clyde’s Prime Rib (5474 NE Sandy Blvd.)
  • Time Sound: Albina’s jazz reinvented. Saturday, August 6 at 6 p.m., Washington Park Rose Garden (400 SW Kingston Ave.)

Summer of Sound events are free.