The Oregon Coast Jazz Party titled one segment “Saturday Morning Chamber Jazz.” In the event, most of the weekend celebration had the character and intimacy of a chamber music festival. The proceedings began with flutist Holly Hofmann—the OCJP’s music director—walking on stage alone, playing “Strike Up The Band.” Chorus by chorus, musicians who were to perform over the two and a half days joined her to improvise on that piece and a good old blues in F.
Pictured left to right: a Rifftides staff member introducing pianist Randy Porter, bassist Nicki Parrott, guitarist Mimi Fox, drummer Chuck Redd, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, trumpeter Byron Striping, tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and Ms. Hofmann. In the course of the opening jam, pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Tom Wakeling, drummer Todd Strait and singer Dee Daniels also contributed.
For the most part, rehearsals consisted solely of Green Room discussions about tunes and keys. In a series of mix- and-match encounters, musicians from both coasts of the US and places in between relied on the common language shared by first-rate players—harmonic knowledge, swing, and the ability to stimulate and surprise one another. Through the weekend, all of that worked to a remarkable degree, thanks to the talent of the players and singers, Ms. Hofmann’s organizational ability and the skill of the volunteer stage crew and audio staff, whose work is at a professional level. Here, following on the two-tenor saxophone tradition of Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, we see Harry Allen and Ken Peplowski with bassist Wakeling and drummer Redd. Mike Wofford was at the piano, a fount of harmonic ingenuity, as he was in several settings during the festival.
In his set, Stripling alternated between meaty swing-to-bop trumpet inventions and the entertainer persona he has built on the example of Louis Armstrong. Flowery and exhibitionist in a long virtuoso introduction to “I Found a New Baby,” he then shifted to quiet exposition of melody for “In a Mellotone,” with references to the minimalist style of Harry “Sweets” Edison. When Dee Daniels joined him, they traded vocal choruses and scatted energetically on “Every Day I Have The Blues.” Nicki Parrott was the bassist. In her own opening night set, Ms. Daniels sang a moving version of “All The Way” from her recent album, introduced her funky and amusing 16-bar song “Midlife Crisis,” and brought on Peplowski to play a clarinet obbligato behind her restrained “Lover Man.” Her vocalese variations at the end of the song brought an ovation.
Not all was unrehearsed. There were two regularly constituted small bands. Pianist Benny Green’s trio with bassist David Wong and drummer Rodney Green played two concerts.
Green paid homage to some of the pianists whose examples helped shape his style, beginning with his version of Cedar Walton’s “Something in Common.” He moved on through Horace Silver’s “St. Vitus Dance” and a massive approach to McCoy Tyner’s “Fly With the Wind.” He caressed Fred Lacey’s “Theme for Ernie” and took Thelonious Monk’s “52nd Street Theme” at a supersonic tempo. In the Monk piece, the substance and continuity of his improvised piano line at burnout speed astonished the audience as well as his fellow musicians crowding the wings backstage. Rodney Green, using wire brushes in his solo on the piece, was remarkable in his inventiveness. Wong’s big, centered, tone, firm time and melodic solos were a revelation throughout both of the quartet’s sets.
From Portland, pianist Darrell Grant’s quartet MJ New saluted the Modern Jazz Quartet in a program of pieces from the MJQ repertoire and two of Grant’s compositions. In John Lewis pieces including “Versaille” and “Django,” his classic arrangement of “Autumn in New York,” and Milt Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove,” the group’s combination of tonal delicacy and insistent swing captured the aura of the MJQ. Still, Grant’s originals “An Elise Affair” and “Bach to Brazil,” were highlights. In the collegial spirit of the weekend, clarinetist Peplowski sat in on “All The Things You Are.” He and Stripling joined Grant, vibraphonist Mike Horsfall, bassist Marcus Shelby and drummer Carlton Jackson on the set’s finale, “Bags’ Groove.” Horsfall, like Grant a yeoman figure in the impressive Portland jazz community, is an original vibist, far from being a Jackson clone.
Mimi Fox began her set unaccompanied with a full-bodied workout on Chick Corea’s “500 MilesHigh,” shifted down into “Darn That Dream,” then brought on Mike Wofford for a piano-guitar duet performance of Paul McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” that was rich in complex harmonies. Wofford stood by while she explored “Have You Met Miss Jones” alone, then rejoined her. Now, having promised surprises, Ms. Fox called out Ms. Hofmann, Tom Wakeling and Chuck Redd for Jobim’s “Triste.” The ingenious modulations in her solo raised eyebrows on stage. Introducing “Willow Weep For Me” and instructing Redd to set up a funk beat, she announced, “I’m not sure this is going to work.” It worked.
Based in Portland and known internationally, Rebecca Kilgore, teamed with Harry Allen. She and the tenor saxophonist performed several pieces from their album I Like Men, including the Peggy Lee title tune and—inevitably—”I’m Just Wild About Harry,” with an exuberant solo by its namesake. Randy Porter, Tom Wakeling and drummer Todd Strait were the empathetic rhythm section. Not a scat singer Ms. Kilgore demonstrated throughout the set that her phrasing and note substitutions tap more deeply into the essence of jazz than some singers’ multiple choruses of scatting. Nicki Parrott joined her to sing “Two Little Girls From Little Rock” from the motion picture Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Afterward (right), they relaxed in the Green Room as Holly Hofmann strolled by.
The exception to the general chamber music aspect of the festival was Chuck Redd’s appearance on vibes with the Swing Shift Jazz Orchestra. The big band from Eugene, Oregon, is populated by avocational players, including music teachers, but has the polish of a professional group.
With Doug Doerfert conducting, Redd featured music from the book of the Terry Gibbs band that thrived in Los Angeles in the late 1950s and 1960s. A thoughtful vibraphonist, Redd plays approximately half the number of notes the excitable Gibbs might employ, but he generates excitement nonetheless. The arrangements that Al Cohn, Bill Holman, Bob Brookmeyer, Manny Albam and Marty Paich wrote for Gibbs are undated for their age—indeed, for any age. Redd’s soloing and interaction with the band were evidence not only of rigorous rehearsal but also of empathy on the stand. Peplowski, an inveterate sitter-in and a raconteur with a standup comic’s timing, joined them for a guest shot. For many, however, the apogee of the set came when Redd and Horsfall shared the vibraphone in a riotous duel. They ended up dancing around one another to trade shorter and shorter phrases on alternate ends of the instrument. It was a fine bit of spontaneous show biz, effective not only as visual shtick, but as joyful music.