Portland Jazz Festival a hit

The Portland Jazz Festival has been a resounding success so far. The festival, which will run until Feb. 26, has brought what seems like an unending series of big name jazz performers to the city. And the festival itself has done a terrific job of making the event as accessible to broke college students as it is to fat-pocketed Westsiders.

Pianist McCoy Tyner gave what was perhaps the finest concert of the event thus far, playing an 80-minute set at the Hilton Grand Ballroom last Friday evening to an eager, packed house. Backed by a drummer and a bassist, and then joined onstage by Ravi Coltrane for four songs, Tyner wowed those in attendance as he ran through everything from Thelonius Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser,” to a number of self-penned tracks from his own storied solo career. In a daring, uncompromising set, Tyner and his band improvised melody upon melody, creating a soulful, triumphant sound that melded triumph with melancholia.

Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who introduced Tyner, put the importance of the integrity of jazz as both a tradition and an ongoing musical dialogue into sharp words. “Jazz has become about commercialization,” Bridgewater said, to loud cheers. “Record companies have brought jazz down into a mundane formula so that it can be packaged and sold. That’s not jazz.”

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton’s gig at the Crystal Ballroom on Saturday afternoon was also a treat for jazz enthusiasts. With two of his band members absent due to a weather delay and reportedly with only a one-hour notice, Payton saw his lineup filled in by PSU’s own Darrell Grant. Grant, who teaches at PSU and is an integral part of the university’s attempt to broaden its jazz program, more than held his own. In fact, he stole the show. Diving into rhythmic, low-end grooves on his piano, Grant had both the Ballroom and Payton’s band watching in awe.

Lastly, the festival, in coordination with a number of bookstores and PSU, set up a number of free public discussions – involving everyone from Tyner to Stefon Harris to Ravi Coltrane to Bridgewater – that allowed jazz enthusiasts to engage with performers that most had only heard on record before last weekend.

For more information on the Portland Jazz Festival, check www.pdxjazz.com.