Old meets new in Lincoln Hall

Old Cats Concert
Lincoln Performance Hall
Fri, March 16 – 7:30 p.m.
$10 general, $8 seniors, $6 students
(503) 725-3307

Today’s aspiring jazz musicians will commune with yesterday’s local jazz legends tonight at PSU. The Old Cats Concert, directed by PSU Associate Professor of Jazz Studies Darrell Grant, is a popular annual event that brings jazz fans a night of old music meeting new performers.

In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, groundbreaking musicians helped jump-start a budding jazz community in Portland. Musicians such as vocalist “Sweet Baby James” Benton, trumpeter Bobby Bradford, trombonist Cleve Williams, tenor saxophonists Bob Hernandez and Sam Schlicting and pianist Eddie Wied, paved the way for a vibrant Rose City jazz scene. Each musician contributed to the area their own way.

During the ’40s, Benton shared music with other jazz enthusiasts on a homemade stage in his Northeast Portland home. Bradford, a graduate of the University of Portland, played every major club in the Portland area with Roscoe Weathers’ six-piece band. Hernandez has played with celebrities such as Bob Newhart, Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney. He spent many years in Las Vegas performing with his own group. Williams toured with Dinah Washington in a band comprised of many jazz luminaries. Wied, better known to jazz lovers as “The Professor,” studied at Julliard and has played with many jazz legends.

“These ‘Old Cats’ are true jazz pioneers who made Portland one of the top jazz towns on the West Coast,” Grant said.

Now in the 21st century, these legends are joining together with the young musicians of PSU to perform a program of classic jazz standards. Songs such as “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Body and Soul,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Blues March” will be performed tonight in Lincoln Hall.

Portland jazz has long thrived, especially in the Portland State jazz studies program. Charley Gray heads the program, with Grant and Lonnie Cline serving as associate professors. Grant is known as one of the area’s finest jazz pianists, and Cline serves the school with vocal jazz instruction.

PSU’s new Bachelor of Music Performance with Jazz Emphasis degree challenges young musicians with a rigorous curriculum of jazz improvisation, applied music, jazz history and jazz arranging, among many other things.

Adam Jones, student member of the PSU jazz program, claimed that Grant’s improvisation class is one of the hardest classes he has ever taken.

All the real-life performance preparation has paid off. In 1998, the PSU Jazz Combo took top honors when they went to the University of Nevada, Reno for the Reno Jazz Festival. The competition involving the Western states was fierce, but PSU emerged highly decorated. Besides the jazz combo’s honors in the four-year college division, Portland State students Leon Blackshaw and Ben Medler both won first place in their individual instruments’ categories. The PSU Jazz Ensemble, having placed sixth in the four-year college division, received an overall rating of I (Superior) from the competition.

The “Old Cats” are definitely in good company. Together with the PSU youngsters, tonight’s concert will be full of enthusiasm. Though generations may separate the “Old Cats” and today’s jazz studies scholars, the common bond between them is their love for performance and jazz music.

The “Old Cats” will take to the stage tonight only, March 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Lincoln Performance Hall. Tickets are on sale now at the PSU Box Office, at 510 S.W. Hall. Tickets can also be purchased by calling (503) 725-3307 or at the door. It costs only $6 for students with a valid ID, $8 for seniors, and $10 general.