Half a century ago, inner Northeast Portland was the undisputed hub of Oregon jazz. A vibrant music scene thrived in this urban African-American community, later sadly bulldozed to make way for urban renewal. Clubs like the Dude Ranch, Lil’ Sandy’s Chicken Coop, McClendon’s Rhythm Room, Frat Hall, The Chicken Coop and the Uptown Ballroom hosted the Jazz greats of the era. Bird, Duke, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, and Wardell Gray performed at venues along Union, Williams, Vancouver and Mississippi avenues and jam sessions rocked into the morning hours. In his book ‘Jumptown: The Golden Years of Portland’s Jazz, 1942-1957’ Robert Diestche documents this rich musical history and reminds us how deeply our Jazz roots go here in Stumptown.
Now, decades after live Jazz moved across the river to the downtown area, there are new signs of life back on the east side. In Southeast Portland the Blue Monk now has hard hitting Jazz five nights a week and Jam sessions are sprouting up again in the fertile soil of Northeast Portland.
Every Tuesday night at Mississippi Pizza, Portland Jazz Jams hosts a session from 8pm 'til 10:30pm. This room features authentic NYC style pizza and an easy going atmosphere.
The newest jam session is at the club formerly known at Billy Reed’s in the Standard Dairy Building on MLK Jr. boulavard. When Billy Reed’s opened up five years ago it immediately became the most happening nightspot in Northeast Portland. There were jam sessions weekly and excellent bands the rest of the week. Unfortunately ownership changed hands several times and the club was soon reduced to a a shell of it’s former self. The once rich mix of Buppies, Yuppies, hipsters, and neighborhood old timers stayed away in droves. The food went from gourmet Northwestern cuisine to burgers and fried cheese.
The club's new owners Brian Davis and Al Martinez, two highly experienced and energetic restauranteurs, are restoring the club's former glory as the Northeast Portland's premier entertainment venue. They are renovating the patio, stage, and banquet rooms and have revived the excellent menu. They also plan wine tasting, happy hour parties, rooftop and community events, and restaurant sponsored sporting events. The club’s new name, new look and new menu will be unveiled at the June 1st grand opening.
The Jazz jam session is every Wednesday from 8pm until 11pm and will be hosted by guitarist/bassist/singer Danny Meyers and myself. Danny Meyer (a.k.a. Captain Dan) recently relocated to PDX from SoCal, where he led his casual band through 100 performances a year, covering Jazz, Latin, Blues, Rock, Soul, Funk, Reggae, Country, Irish and Folk styles. The Jazz jam session will also explore a wide range of Jazz styles including Bebop, Afro-Cuban Jazz, Groove Jazz, Blues, Brazilian Jazz, Hard-Bop, Swing, and Funky Jazz. The top-shelf rhythm section features drummer Joe Janiga, known for his work with Klezmocracy and Bossa Nouveau, and pianist Reece Marshburn.
Thursday through Saturday nights live bands like Devin Phillips’ New Orleans Straight Ahead and DJs will be featured. If you’re a player or Jazz fan, come back and give this great venue another chance. You’ll see that the spirit of Jumptown is alive and kickin' again.