Answering the call

Walking through a beautiful yet simple neighborhood in the heart of Northeast Portland, one would never imagine the vast riches hidden inside one of the quaintest houses on the block.

Walking through a beautiful yet simple neighborhood in the heart of Northeast Portland, one would never imagine the vast riches hidden inside one of the quaintest houses on the block.

Behind the doors of this house lives one of Portland’s most respected and prolific jazz musicians—Portland State graduate Andrew Oliver.

At only 25, Oliver has accomplished more than many musicians accomplish in their entire careers. He has earned his college degree, released several jazz albums, played with some of the greatest current musicians spanning several genres and performed at some of the world’s most exotic venues.

Oliver grew up just down the street from where he lives now. He started playing piano at age three and eventually, as many pianists do, got into classical music. Outside of music, Oliver is an amateur chef. He also enjoys reading, traveling and anything to do with the outdoors.

Yet, by the time he had begun high school, Oliver knew that jazz was his calling.

It was then that Oliver began to gravitate towards certain influential individuals, one of whom was jazz great Jelly Roll Morton, who is still one of favorite musicians.

“As a creative personality he was one of the most remarkable American musicians in the history of music,” Oliver said about Morton. “He single-handedly took different influences and melded them together in a way that hadn’t been done before.”

Oliver has a great many thoughts outside of the realm of music as well. Someone who helped with that was a high school instructor named Tim Joy.

“Mr. Joy was very influential to me,” said Oliver. “We discussed a lot of politics and economics, and to be aware of not only the direct ramifications of our actions, but the backdoor ones as well.”

After high school, Oliver moved to New Orleans where he studied jazz at Loyola University. New Orleans is also where Oliver made his most major strides as a musician and performer.

After Hurricane Katrina hit, he was forced to move back home where he finished his degree at PSU as a jazz and French major.

The plainly elegant upright piano located in Oliver’s living room serves as his home for many hours each day. The piano is not fancy by any stretch of the imagination, but it serves a great purpose. Along with teaching lessons on a regular basis, Oliver also practices like a fiend.

His practicing has paid off, as Oliver is one of the busiest musicians on the scene. Oliver’s groups currently perform at several locations in Portland including The Cave, located underneath The Green Onion, The Old Church, The Crystal Ballroom and legendary jazz club Jimmy Mak’s located in Northwest Portland.

He is currently juggling five different performing groups, each with its own unique sound and lineup of musicians.

These groups include the Andrew Oliver Sextet, The Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, The Andrew Oliver Cora Band, The Bridgetown Sextet and The Sound For the Organization of Society.

The Sound For the Organization of Society is definitely the most avant-garde of Oliver’s current groups. It is a creative music ensemble that Oliver started while in New Orleans.

Oliver has developed a deep connection with his community, and that includes making efforts to give back.

“We are in the beginning stages of turning The Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble into a nonprofit organization,” he said.

Balancing all of his commitments can be hard, but Oliver said that a key is connecting the music to the city he lives in.

“The sextet doesn’t play too much due to all of my other commitments but we put out an album on a label called Diatec Records in 2007,” said Oliver. “It’s a cool thing to be involved in because both the label is connected to the jazz scene in Portland, and [it is] also very community oriented.”