An Open Letter to Jazz Musicians

Vortex Music Magazine

The conversation about Portland jazz does not have to begin and end with Jimmy Mak’s or the Portland Jazz Festival. And while local jazz musicians are wont to improvise creatively, they should do the same when seeking out new audiences. Photos by Jason Quigley

Two faces of Portland jazz: Christopher Brown and Coco ColumbiaTwo faces of Portland jazz: Christopher Brown and Coco Columbia

“Where can I see jazz in Portland?”


Ask the stereotypical Portlander and the conversation will likely begin and end with two local stalwarts: every night at Jimmy Mak’s or once a year at the Portland Jazz Festival.

While both of these are undoubtedly institutions, they are not the be-all, end-all of the Portland jazz scene. And local jazz musicians themselves need to recognize this as well. Complaints of aging, narrow-minded and shrinking audiences—some with rigid definitions of jazz—are all too common.

So why not find a new audience? One that’s less limiting, where you can flourish creatively and grow your fan base?

The beauty of jazz is its permeability. Like a spice that can flavor every other musical style, jazz musicians are supremely practiced, professional and, most importantly, progressive. Jazz always leaves room for collaboration, improvisation and evolution.

Click to get back to reading the current issue!Click to get back to reading the current issue!Acclaimed jazz drummer Christopher Brown believes not enough people are talking about jazz, and this lack of an active dialogue reduces its visibility. So bring the conversation to the club. Seek crossover appeal. Go after a facet of the larger scene that interests you and aligns with your creative endeavors. But pick a flavor that’s already being consumed: indie rock, hip-hop, electronic, pop. Get in front of that audience alongside the buzzworthy indie acts, inside their bars and venues. If jazz performers will take a leap in terms of where they see themselves performing, as well as who they’re sharing the stage with, then audiences too will leap and go along for the ride.

Jazz gets a bad rap for being intimidating, especially to the uninitiated—those who lack musical education and didn’t grow up listening to the stuff. So make it easy to indoctrinate new members into the House of Jazz. Younger, hipper audiences don’t want to see their live music in a supper club, cafe or wine bar. They’re already in the dance and rock clubs with DJs and guitar slingers, so why not bring jazz to them?

Portland has an active music scene where musicians and audiences alike are open to new ideas and seeking ways to collaborate, so stop limiting yourself to success in the jazz world—take the same approach you do with your music and improvise.

Chris Young Editor-In-Chief

Get more jazz in the current issue of Vortex: Why Isn’t Jazz Popular? and The Sounds of Portland Jazz.

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