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'Jazz Town': Portland's Golden Jazz Age

Behind The Scenes: Scoring 'Jazz Town'


How do you score a jazz documentary? Bring together five talented musicians and let them play.

Oregon Experience’s “Jazz Town” documents the music and musicians of a bygone chapter of Portland history: the post-World War II jazz scene on North Williams Avenue.

Five Portland jazz musicians play in OPB's television studio. They were recording the score for Oregon Experience's "Jazz Town."

Five Portland jazz musicians play in OPB's television studio. They were recording the score for Oregon Experience's "Jazz Town."

OPB

It seemed fitting that a documentary about jazz in Portland should feature some of the city’s modern-day players, so “Jazz Town” producer Eric Cain reached out to Darrell Grant, a professor of Jazz Studies at Portland State University, for help. Grant, an accomplished jazz pianist, agreed to write and record the “Jazz Town” score.

Full-length tunes aren’t regularly used in television production, so with that in mind, Grant composed eight pieces, ranging from 30 to 60 seconds. These music cues, as they’re called in the industry, included New Orleans–style, Duke Ellington swing and jump-blues compositions.

With the music ready, Grant hired four local musicians; Cain reserved the OPB television studio for the session; and on a January afternoon, it all came together.

This is the drawing Darrell submitted in advance, to help the studio crew set lights for the different musicians. Note that the trumpet and sax players swapped places for the actual recording.

This is the drawing Darrell submitted in advance, to help the studio crew set lights for the different musicians. Note that the trumpet and sax players swapped places for the actual recording.

OPB

Under bright studio lights, the musicians assembled: Grant on piano, Andre St. James on bass, Chris Brown on drums, Derek Sims on trumpet and David Evans on saxophone and clarinet. This group musician had never played together before. And aside from Grant, none of them had ever played — let alone seen — the music in front of them. You would have never guessed it was a day of firsts. They sounded great.

You can experience moments from this special session, which was filmed by OPB videographers Tom Shrider and Greg Bond, in the video below.

OPB digital producer Laurie Isola contributed to this article.

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