Lynn Darroch: Feels Like Coming Home

When I talk to musicians about Rhythm in the Rain, their first question often is, “Am I in it?” And I often have to say no. To cover one hundred years of jazz in the Pacific Northwest in a narrative that moves readers forward, you can’t include everyone—or even half of the artists who have contributed to this distinct culture that grew up far from centers of influence and power, where tradition is honored, young talent is nurtured, and nice guys often finish first. Here’s the story of one of those artists whose contributions didn’t appear in the finished version. And like those that did, his story is about art and the power of place.

Now this story is about jazz pianist Dick Blake. But first I have to tell you something about humpback whales. You’ll see the connection—because their story’s all about the magic of homecoming, just like Dick’s, with the same kind of happy ending.

So … every year, when humpback whales gather off the Mexican coast, the males arrive singing. Early in the season, each whale’s song is short, simple, and different from the rest. But as time passes, all the males end up singing the same long, complex tune. The next year, each returns with different fragments of the previous song, but they all leave singing in unison again. It’s like they have to come home in order to find their song, or maybe the only way to recover it is to build a new one together. At any rate, their identity resides in those waters where they gather every year to sing. I like to think that’s true for Dick Blake too.

I call him Dick Blake, like everyone in Portland did, but that’s not his real name. See, when he returned home in his fifties to live in Albany, the Willamette Valley town where he was born and raised, he took the name he grew up with: Richard Applegate. A name with historic Oregon connections, a name with roots.

Albany was a mill town in the ’40s when Dick learned to play, a tough little place in a soft and forgiving landscape, and Dick listened to the rain and to meadowlarks and became an artist. Age sixteen, he and his childhood sweetheart Mary won a talent contest at the Oregon State Fair and then performed on Ted Mack’s The Original Amateur Hour in New York. That launched his career, but their love affair went quiet for forty years—until Dick returned to Albany.

Those comfortable jazz standards he loved to play? Them he never left. And every time he sat at the keyboard, whether in Portland, San Francisco, or on the road, he sounded like he was at home, in the Willamette Valley, filling his music with its abundance and beauty.

There’s something familiar about it, even if you’ve never heard him before. It’s full of the hopeful rhythms and pretty chord voicings of his boyhood Oregon, rooted in swing and the blues. You feel his hands on the keys when Dick plays, the soil of the valley, the river in spring, oak leaves in the wind.

It’s the sound of home.

Check out Lynn’s first two blog posts here and here.

Lynn Darroch: The Legend of Jim Pepper (Stories on the Cutting Room Floor)

Sometimes you just have to leave something out, and here’s one of the stories we couldn’t fit into Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest about the accomplished and tempestuous Native American saxophonist, composer, and singer Jim Pepper, who grew up and got his musical start in Portland.

Imagine thousands of people, standing, swaying, some even crying, and all singing “Witchi-Tai-To” with Jim: “Water spirit feeling springin’ ’round my head, makes me feel glad that I’m not dead,” sang Jim, and it was a spiritual experience for many in the crowd that late summer afternoon. But Jim wasn’t a spiritual guy; he was more earthy, liked women, booze, food, whatever made you feel good.

But he was angry too: once cursed an audience in Montana, screaming, “You mf-ers, don’t you know that Custer died for your sins!” Some performances were like opening a wound. Of Kaw and Creek descent, it was hard for Jim to walk in two worlds with one spirit.

But that’s what made him a hero—because sometimes he did.

Born in 1941, Jim grew up poor in a Vanport apartment with coal heat. One day he came running in from a game of cowboys and Indians with neighbor kids. “Dad,” he cried, “they won’t let me be the Indian!” So Gilbert dressed him in feathered powwow costume, and by god, they let him be the Indian then, and ever after, Jim always played the Indian. Even as a handsome four-sport star at Madison High, where he dated the prettiest girls and toured with the Young Oregonians, he’d dress in feathers for an Indian dance, change into a tuxedo for tap, then don his zoot suit to play with the band.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” he’d always urge his friends. “Let’s go!”

But he was always an outsider, and Jim—lured by wild bop to Williams Avenue—gave up sports for the saxophone, which took him to New York eventually, where he became a jazz-rock pioneer with the pop hit “Witchi-Tai-To” in 1971. But music became too commercialized for Jim; compromise was never an option, and he retreated to Alaskan boat decks and dive bars, seeking there his path through two worlds.

Jim returned with a vision of Native music fused with jazz, so Jim recorded with his father, played powwows, and wrote Indian songs for jazz shows that were both sweet and fierce, full of healing and hate; love songs and war dances for a man twisting between two worlds. His band felt the tension: simple melodies that led to explosive bursts like the obsidian flash of a claw. I was afraid of him. But bandmates stayed because the music was bigger than the man.
Called himself Polar Bear then, humorous but dominant, and on a path leading him to Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, and critical acclaim in Europe. Until he came home to die.

The last time I saw Jim, he was on a festival side stage. Brown felt hat over a head now bald from chemo, he walked with a stoop. But up close to the stage you could hear him: “It’s good where we’ve been and where we’re going,” sang Jim. “It’s good where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

And the music was bigger than the man.

Don’t miss Lynn’s third and final blog post this Friday. Read his first blog post here.

Lynn Darroch: Something in the Water

“Maybe it’s something in the water,” I said, as a joke at first. But as I thought about it, I began to realize that maybe it is all the water around here that makes jazz from the Pacific Northwest as distinct as its landscape and culture.

That was the starting point, anyway, for Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest, when I began research in early 2014. And at first it seemed impossible: comb through one hundred years of history to show how the geography and the communities that grew up here shaped the character of the jazz scene? And explain, in this place so far removed from the centers of influence and power, why such a robust scene developed?

Fortunately, without realizing it I’d been working on this book ever since 1979, when I wrote my first magazine article about local jazz. And for the next thirty-five years, I covered people and events important to the story. That was a good start, since I’d saved a good portion of everything I’d written. And since I’d been editor of the Jazzscene magazine for years, I had a stack of those to consult too. I’d collected other publications as well, and those dusty piles yielded details that are hard to keep in memory.

I’d been lucky enough to record many of my conversations with musicians and others in the jazz business, and I’d kept airchecks from my radio shows, too, on which I’d interviewed dozens of artists. Then I conducted numerous interviews to fill the gaps. But most of my subjects were from the Portland area, where I live.

So north I went to Puget Sound, where I’d visited frequently in my childhood and during several periods since. I’d been writing for a Seattle magazine over the years, too, and had read all I could in others. But the Puget Sound scene is vast, and if it hadn’t been for the help of Paul de Barros (and his book, Jackson Street After Hours), I would have been lost. He spent hours answering questions about people and events from his nearly thirty years covering music for The Seattle Times.

As vital as all those words were, you can’t write about jazz without listening to the music. And as a journalist and radio host, I’ve been able to hear nearly every jazz album that’s come out of the region; as a journalist, I attended live performances by many of the artists active since the 1970s.

No matter how much information you gather, though, there’s always someone else to talk to, another artist to consider. But the need to tell the story trumps completeness, and in the end I put what I had all together into a story about a happy marriage between people and place and the distinct musical culture it produced.

It’s but one story you could tell about this under-documented subculture, and in someone’s eyes, you’ll always be wrong—a lesson I learned from the legendary Red Rodney, who played with Charlie Parker and had a colorful history, which I figured everybody’d want to read about.

But when I got to the club, the short, red-headed trumpeter player stormed up, angry that my article had dredged up tales he said weren’t true, though I’d confirmed, and at the end of his rant he yelled, “You don’t know shit!”

So when I was attempting to wrestle the one-hundred-year panorama of jazz in the Pacific Northwest into the picture I wished to paint, I remembered Red.

And then I went ahead anyway. That’s what living in the Pacific Northwest will do for you. Must be something in the water.

Don’t miss Lynn Darroch’s second blog post this Wednesday.

The Release of Rhythm in the Rain

As of February 8, Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest will be released to all the reading world. We at Ooligan and especially the whole Rhythm in the Rain team are extremely excited to share this beautifully crafted book with readers, jazz lovers, history buffs, and all Pacific Northwesterners. It has been quite a ride working alongside author Lynn Darroch to put together a finished product that is informative and educational, while at the same time poetically written and beautiful to look through.

To celebrate the release of this long-anticipated title, there are a few events that people should be aware of. First, we would love for everyone to join us in officially launching Rhythm in the Rain on Wednesday, February 24 at Classic Piano. This launch will be in accordance with the Portland Jazz Festival, which is taking place all throughout the city on February 18–28. If you can’t make the launch party at Classic Piano, you will also have an opportunity to purchase a copy of the book and perhaps even meet Lynn and get him to sign it for you outside the Newmark and Winningstad concert halls on February 18–21 and 26–28. Last but not least, Lynn will be doing a reading from his new book, accompanied with a live musical performance on Saturday, March 2 at Powell’s City of Books downtown. Lynn and all of us at Ooligan Press hope to see many of you during these events so we can meet and thank you all for your support in person.

In other news, non-related to the release of Rhythm in the Rain, Ooligan Press is also pleased to announce that we will soon begin the process of re-releasing a twentieth anniversary edition of one of our most successful and critically acclaimed titles, Ricochet River by Robin Cody. This book has long been one of the paramount titles of Pacific Northwest literature, and we are extremely excited to share it with a whole new generation of readers. Look forward to more information involving this exciting reissue in the near future.

Worth the Wait: Our First Look at Rhythm in the Rain

It’s a pretty incredible feeling to see something that you have worked so hard on for so long come to fruition. That moment came earlier last week for all of us who have poured ourselves into the development of Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest, when a shipment of advanced reader copies arrived here at the Ooligan Press office. The feeling of cracking open the box, peeling away the bubblewrap, and finally holding in my hands a physical book—that up until that moment had been nothing more than countless computer files and a dream—was one that I will not soon forget. It was a feeling that reminded me of why I got into the business of bookmaking in the first place.

It was a real treat to take a few moments with the Rhythm in the Rain team and leaf through the pages of a book that has been so long in the making, but just as soon as we had all taken some time to admire the fruits of our labors, we were reminded that our work is far from over. In just a few short months we will be receiving not advanced reader copies, but bonafide final versions of the book that will be ready to hit bookstores throughout the region. The coming of this highly anticipated publication, which will happen just in time to help Portland celebrate its annual jazz festival, will be accompanied by an extremely ambitious social media campaign, as well as what is sure to be a busy schedule for author Lynn Darroch. Everyone should be sure to mark their calendars for February 8 and be prepared to join Darroch and all of Ooligan Press in celebrating the much anticipated release of this exciting and informative new title.

For those lovers of jazz, writing, and history who simply can’t wait until February to get their fix, be sure to catch Darroch’s weekly radio show, Bright Moments, which airs every Friday at 1–4 p.m. on 89.1 FM KMHD. Darroch speaks the same way that he writes, and with his poetic style of storytelling it is all but impossible not to become immersed in the narrative.

It’s All Falling Together

It has been almost two whole years since Ooligan Press held the vote to acquire Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest, and now after countless hours of hard work and dedication, we are finally on the verge of having a finished book in hand. Since our last update, we have conquered such hurdles as nailing down a complete and final manuscript, deciding which photos will accompany the text, and gaining an understanding of how all of these pieces will fit together visually in the book’s interior design.

As our interior designers chip away at creating a book with aesthetics that properly complement the rhythm and flow of Lynn Darroch’s writing style, the majority of Rhythm in the Rain‘s team has shifted to a mindset revolving around marketing. Because this book is so unique among the types of titles we usually publish here at Ooligan, it has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to approach the marketing and promotion process in a way like never before. Without giving too much away, I would urge readers to look forward to some exciting and interactive experiences via Ooligan’s Instagram and Spotify accounts, not to mention plenty of opportunities to catch live jazz performances (and some readings of the book by Mr. Darroch himself) as the Portland Jazz Festival and other events come through the city.

As the manager for this project, I always like to take any opportunity I can to give credit where credit is due. Every spring, Ooligan adopts a new influx of students into its ranks, and considering that I and every other seasoned Oolie was once “one of the new kids,” I can attest to how daunting being a newcomer can be. Despite the nerves and learning curves that come with suddenly becoming an integral member of a real-life publishing house, the four newest members of the Rhythm in the Rain team have been nothing short of tremendous. Maeko Bradshaw, Alyssa Hanchar, Cobi Lawson, and MacKenzie Turner have each come into the program with a passion and enthusiasm that is to be applauded, not to mention unique abilities and expertise that are certain to make this book an even bigger success than it would have been without them.

Rhythm in the Rain Voted as Title for Jazz Project

Early this past March, Ooligan hosted its very first public title vote for our forthcoming jazz project. This poll ran for two weeks and offered up four titles with space for clever minds to add in their own suggestions.

Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest was voted best title for the project, which was previously known as Mastersounds.

This process varies from the traditional way Ooligan develops new titles for projects, which consists of a week or two of brainstorming among the project team, sharing the best of these ideas with the author for their thoughts, and finally discussing and voting as a group at our executive meeting.

The choice to open up the title vote to the community came from the idea that jazz music in its best form comes out of a group effort, whether from open gigs at a club, or a house party concert for friends. We wanted to mirror that creation process and find a way for the local jazz community to be involved with the book. In the near future, there will be more ways for the community to help with the development of this project.

We were amazed and excited to see that 152 people cast votes in this poll, with five new ideas submitted. After analyzing all the data we received, the top-ranked titles went to the author and the press for final votes, and as of April 3 we have a new title! Follow the Rhythm in the Rain on its Start-to-Finish page.

Rhythm in the Rain is an upcoming nonfiction narrative about the jazz community in the Pacific Northwest that examines the people, places, and events that have made cities like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, so popular among musicians. Written by local musician, radio broadcaster, and author Lynn Darroch, Rhythm in the Rain serves to inform and entertain, while showing that jazz is undoubtedly another of the countless cultural offerings this wonderful corner of the country has cultivated throughout its history.

Meet the Team

As we are reaching the end of Winter 2015, I wanted to introduce the team who has been working to make this book possible. Without these people, it would be nearly impossible to accomplish anything we have done thus far, so I wanted to give them a shout out this week.

One of the bigger things that they have helped develop is the public title poll for the renaming of this project. With the manuscript in developmental editing, it was time for us to consider alternative to Mastersounds, mainly because we wanted to find something more fitting to the content of the book. We came up with a few different titles, but had a hard time narrowing it down any further, so we wanted to open it up to the readers and see if they could help us out.

So far, the poll has been up for a week and we have received about 130 votes. The poll is going to be up until March 15th and the new title will be announced on April 3rd.

Other items in our doing list include the developmental edits of the manuscript and the creation of a print that is specific to this title. You will get to see the final print when our crowdfunding campaign launches in April.

During the short break, the team and I will be getting the crowdfunding campaign set to launch and continuing with editing of the jazz manuscript and the reprint of Brew to Bikes.


An Interview with Lynn Darroch

Ooligan Press recently had the opportunity to sit down with Lynn Darroch, the author of our upcoming jazz history release, Mastersounds. Darroch, an accomplished musician and writer, is well known for his stories, and his answers to our questions didn’t disappoint!

When did you first become interested in music, and in jazz in particular?

My mother sang songs from her youth around the house, and my father loved music—his trumpet, though never played after the War, sat like a sacred totem, golden in its case lined with purple velvet; together, we watched Ralph Gleason’s jazz show weekly on public TV and went to see Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. Sometimes my dad would sing a solo in church. I wanted to be like him.

I started playing clarinet in school band at age ten, and kept at it through four years in the orchestra in college. [I] also played alto and tenor sax in school jazz band and in a rock-and-roll band called The Rivieras. We wore blue blazers, crew cuts, and tight pants. I had an excellent teacher in Corvallis named Harvey Brooks. I remember him taking my horn to demonstrate a jazz lick or a figure in a Mozart concerto; after he handed it back for me to try, the taste of bourbon and cigarettes lingered on my mouthpiece.

And then I traded music for writing. Fortunately, circumstances conspired to offer an opportunity to write about jazz and related subjects for newspapers, books and magazines. For a while that was enough . . . until the urge to be on the bandstand got so strong that I started turning the stories into tales arranged with live musical accompaniment. Jazz showed me how to navigate such changes, how to be agile, improvise with what you’re given, and how to raise your voice in harmony in an ensemble.

Do you have favorite jazz composers or musicians?

I’ve enjoyed and admired the work of many jazz players and composers, from Duke Ellington to Esperanza Spalding. There’s all kinds of beauty, though—I’m also listening to tango, various African music, Latin American pop and folkloric styles, soul, and flamenco. Jazz excels at absorbing other traditions: it’s inclusive, a mirror of America (or maybe, these days, the dream of America).

Both before and during World War Two, Portland had its own jazz scene called Jumptown. What can you tell us about the music that was coming out of Jumptown?

There has always been a lot of collaboration in music; wherever musicians gather, they exchange information. And gather they always do, because music is seldom an individual practice. And music knows no borders, so it always travels, as it did with the minstrels of medieval Europe and the touring bands of mid-century America.

When the number of jazz musicians reaches a critical mass—say over one hundred professionals—there’s enough to sustain a vibrant scene creatively. But professionals only gather in those numbers when there’s enough work to sustain them financially. From the 1930s through the early 1960s, the Pacific Northwest had both, with most of the “jazz” centered in black entertainment districts [such as] along Portland’s Williams Avenue, where most of the [city’s] black and Asian people lived. There were also many white-owned nightclubs, dance halls, theaters, and restaurants where some forms of jazz were played by both white and black musicians.

In those decades, here as elsewhere in the country, jazz techniques and approaches were shared primarily on the bandstand and in jam sessions where even aspiring players got a chance to learn from veterans. Whenever touring jazz bands came through the Pacific Northwest, the musicians would seek out jam sessions and play with resident artists.

Racial issues between people of color and whites were stressful before, during, and after the war years. What part did race and race relations play in the formation of jazz music in Portland and in the greater Pacific Northwest?

Racism and segregationist laws divided jazz musicians in that era, but in varied and complex ways. Across the country, white union musicians, unwilling to admit blacks who would compete for their jobs, encouraged the formation of separate unions. And so in 1913, The Negro Musicians’ Union formed in Seattle. And though the white union did agree to admit black members, most jazz musicians of African descent chose to stay with the black union.

But white and black musicians played in bands together, though often such mixed groups were allowed to perform only in “Black and Tans,” where patrons of both races were welcome. Many white musicians learned to play jazz in jam sessions led by black musicians along Williams Avenue and Jackson Street [in Seattle] in the 1940s and ’50s, including bebop saxophonist Don Lanphere, guitarist Larry Coryell, Glen Moore (cofounder of the band Oregon), and trumpeter Doc Severinsen, who led The Tonight Show Band for many years.

What role(s) and opportunities were available for women of color to be both performers and patrons of jazz music? Was there a Pacific Northwest female performer or patron who pushed for equal rights?

Like Esperanza Spalding today, just being a leader, an instrumentalist, and accomplished artist is making a statement for women of color. The two top early jazz bands in Seattle were led by women—Evelyn Bundy and Edythe Turnham, both pianists. After her marriage to a fellow musician, Turnham made their home a gathering place and home away from home for black jazz musicians, who often had no public accommodations available to them. Myrtle Francois, originally from New Orleans, owned a nightclub on the corner of 12th and Yesler in Seattle, and played drums and sang in her own house band in 1949. Bassist Marianne Mayfield led a trio in Portland during the ’60s and ’70s, holding down a day job as a fifth-grade teacher. Vocalist Linda Hornbuckle, known as Portland’s Soul Diva, had a full-time job with the Multnomah County Health Dept.

Representing. Working in the community. I think that best describes the ways women of color who are jazz musicians have advocated for equal rights in the Pacific Northwest. But of course I have a lot to learn.

From the 1930s onward there have been many great jazz players in the Pacific Northwest. Some were local, and many were from New York City, Chicago, and New Orleans. How did this mix of local and out-of-town talent contribute to the creation of a local Pacific Northwest jazz sound? Can you describe what that sound is like? How has it changed through the years?

What’s developed here, distant from centers of celebrity and power, was shaped by and reflects the environment, the economy, and a music community that grew up in a kind of isolation often found out West, where artists are aware of movements elsewhere, but not always in step with them. Neither is this a place to attain fame and fortune. It’s rare for jazz artists who remain in the Pacific Northwest to establish a national reputation without first attaining it elsewhere.

Some jazz artists with reputations already established have also chosen to live here for precisely those reasons. And that’s the key: the values shared by artists who choose the Pacific Northwest, whether native-born or immigrant, have determined the character of the region’s jazz scene. That’s true whether the style is avant garde . . . gypsy swing, chamber, funk, or mainstream. Because the region some call Cascadia is a place as distinct and powerful as the Mississippi Delta or the coast of Southern California. And, the artists who live here share to a large extent a love for the landscape — and the values of others who do.

Many of us here at Ooligan Press are excited by this project and to be working directly with you. Can you tell us your thoughts on working with Ooligan Press, and what are some of your ideas and dreams for the Mastersounds project?

I want to thank the press and in particular Margaret Schimming’s team for assistance transcribing interviews, digging through thirty-five years of monthly magazines, and offering advice on organization and focus. I look forward to more as the process continues. I taught at colleges and universities for twenty-five years and believe in the kind of project-oriented process you’re using. And who wouldn’t enjoy working with colleagues who are self-directed, helpful, and have a stake in the project themselves?

On a personal level, my question from the beginning has been: How can I make this the book of my dreams? Together, I’d like to create a book that’s well-written and designed to reflect the subject matter as well as make it accessible and captivating, a book that’s lively, useful, and tells a story about the Pacific Northwest that’s not been heard before, a story that celebrates an emblematic aspect of our distinctive regional culture. Jazz is a mirror of culture, and I’m convinced that all true culture is local.

Jazz is the art of collaboration, too, so working together on this project reflects that spirit. I’m providing the tunes, but we’re performing them together, with the goal of making beautiful music that reaches as many people as possible.

For more on Lynn Darroch, visit his website, and don’t forget to follow the progress of Mastersounds on the project’s Start to Finish page!

Renaming the Project

As we continue to work through the developmental edits of the Mastersounds manuscript, it is now time to begin considering picking the final title for the book. The team and the author are currently hard at work developing possibilities for this name change, but we want to get a wider opinion. That said, on March 2, 2015, the Ooligan website will feature a public poll to help us choose the title of the book. Your voice matters, and we want to hear it! We will keep everyone updated as we get closer to opening the votes.

The team is also working away on two grant applications, getting some final marketing plans developed, and continuing the copyedit of the Brew to Bikes reprint. We have a very busy time ahead of us, but we are all raring to go.