Inside Ooligan: A First Look at Mastersounds, Ooligan’s Upcoming History of Jazz in the Pacific Northwest

Wed, 03 Sep 2014 17:00:16 +0000

Two perks of working in the publishing industry are the frequent opportunities to learn about new subjects and to see familiar topics from a whole new perspective. This summer, while working as a research assistant for Ooligan’s newest title, I’ve had the good fortune to be able to do both.

Mastersounds is the working title for an upcoming book exploring the unique history and sound of jazz in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike most books Ooligan publishes, the concept for Mastersounds was created by students within the publishing program. After setting the project in motion, Ooligan students found a local author well acquainted with the local evolution of jazz—Lynn Darroch. As the editor of The Jazz Society of Oregon’s monthly magazine, Jazzscene, Lynn brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the project. As his assistant this summer, I’ve been given an inside look into what Portland was like in decades past and, in the process, learned more about jazz than I’ve ever known.

Early in the summer, I began to peruse Jazzscene back issues to help Lynn chart the appearance—and disappearance—of musicians, venues, and festivals throughout the city’s history. Jazzscene has been around since the early 1970s, and going through it is like leafing through the contents of a time capsule. I can recognize many names associated with both jazz and the city of Portland, but they’re seen through a lens of time, which sharpens the contrast between what existed then and what remains now. I’m by no means a jazz expert, but I certainly know Dizzie Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, and Chet Baker, and it’s amazing to think they’ve all played here or Seattle at one time or another. But I’ve heard other names—names like John Stowell, David Friesen, and Mel Brown—only in passing, or not at all, and yet they appear again and again in each issue’s monthly club listings. By the time I made my way through the ‘70s and ‘80s of Jazzscene, it became clear how important jazz has been to so many musicians, concertgoers, and the substantial community of supporters who’ve sustained the Portland music scene over the years.

As for the Portland clubs that have contributed to the evolution of jazz, many have long since changed names, locations, or closed completely; Brasserie Montmarte and Touché are two of the few venues that still offer live jazz in the same locations as they did during the ‘70s. Annual outdoor concerts such as the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, and the start-to-finish page here on the Ooligan Press site.

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