“You had to be there.”
A phrase no one desires to hear when someone recounts an extraordinary event or moment. Experiencing live jazz often falls into that “had to be there” category. As an art form that thrives on improvisation, jazz truly comes alive in person. The Portland Jazz Festival, a 20-year tradition, stands as an annual convergence of jazz virtuosos and enthusiasts alike. Its inaugural edition spanned a vibrant three-day weekend across hotels lining Broadway, featuring a headline performance by the legendary Wayne Shorter. Over the years, this celebration has evolved, now stretching over two weeks and encompassing diverse venues across the city.
In keeping with tradition, the 2024 festival lineup seamlessly blends iconic acts with emerging talents hailing from around the globe and right here in the Pacific Northwest. The musical spectrum ranges from the soulful vocals of Dianne Reeves to the progressive hip-hop stylings of Kassa Overall. Over a 15-day span, our city will play host to a constellation of stars within our Jazz Without Boundaries universe. Here are seven standout shows that have captured our attention:
greaterkind – If you missed out on getting Jon Batiste tickets, fear not. There is still great music to see on the opening night of the festival. Local group greaterkind is comprised of some of the finest talents the city has to offer: Charlie Brown on keys, Peter Knudsen on guitar and Cory Limuaco on drums. Their talents often lead them around the globe touring with such acts like MonoNeon and Ghost-Note, but at home they come together to produce some of the best music on the scene. Check them out at this show to hear some of the new music they are putting out later this year.
Jack London Revue Feb. 16 at 11:55 p.m.
Reggie Houston and Friends (featuring Mike Elson) – Hailing from New Orleans (and Portland resident since 2004), Houston has a deep understanding of the connection that runs through the history of Black music. His latest project “Anonymous Legends: A History of New Orleans Music” traces many of the lines.
Alberta Street Pub Feb. 20 at 7 p.m.
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – For the past 49 years, percussionist Kahil El’Zabar has led the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble with fearless determination to push the limits of creativity. Throughout the years, the group has had different line ups and instrumentation. The current lineup of baritone sax, trumpet, cello, and Mr. El’Zabar moving between a drum kit and a cajón, produces a unique and spellbinding sound that is uplifting and transformative to the listener.
Jack London Revue Feb. 23 (2 shows) at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Melanie Charles – Melanie Charles is a multihyphenate personified. She is a flutist, vocalist, SP-404 maestro, pod-cast host (Make Jazz Trill Again), collaborator and bandleader. Her ability to confidently display all these skills in any genre she comes across is as stunning as her ability to captivate a crowd from the stage. You have two chances to see this rising star so there are no excuses for missing out.
Portland Art Museum (with Sudan Archives and Bad Snacks) March 1 at 8 p.m.
Jack London Revue March 1 at 11:55 p.m.
Vieux Farka Touré & Bassekou Kouyate – Last year’s Pickathon saw many fine musicians play throughout the festival, but none seem to leave a wake of amazement like Malian guitarist Vieuz Farka Touré. His skilled playing and high energy, explorative music was thrilling and captivating. Sharing a bill with fellow Malian Bassekou Kouyate’s should create another wave of awe.
Aladdin Theater Feb. 25 at 8 p.m.
Nicole Glover, Nicole McCabe, Hailey Niswanger – These three musicians share a few things in common: sax players, composers, and have roots in Portland. All three have also moved away and developed careers as accomplished side players as well as bandleaders. It will be fascinating to see what a night with these three talented musicians sharing a bill will produce, especially in one of the most intimate venues our city has to offer.
The Old Church Feb. 26 at 8 p.m.
Kassa Overall and Theo Croker – This co-head-lining bill features two of the most innovative forces in modern jazz. Both artists approach music with the skill of a jazz player but push way beyond the boundaries of what jazz is often reduced to. It’s no surprise that they were good friends when they studied at the Oberlin Music Conservatory and have collaborated throughout their careers. The two of them on the same bill is a bound to provide some spontaneous collaborations.
The Get Down Feb. 29 at 8 p.m.