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Views From The 6: Tales Of The Portland Jazz Scene


Carlton Jackson and Ron Steen.

Carlton Jackson and Ron Steen.

Jason Bernet/OPB

Sometimes the best way to learn about the past is to hear about it from the people who lived it. KMHD host Jessica Rand did just that.

As Jazz Appreciation month neared, Rand set out across the city of Portland to ask some of the most prominent Portland jazz musicians to visit the KMHD studio. Once she got them there, she simply pushed the record button.

What followed were moving tales from people who lived during Portland’s jazz golden age about community, racism and, of course, the beauty of jazz.

From Ron Steen playing his first gig with Etta James to Carlton Jackson reliving the story of people crossing the street because of the color of his skin, these stories are deep, funny, inspiring and add soul to Portland’s already rich history.

We’ve curated six of these stories below:


Paul Knauls and Ron Steen tell the story of how at 16 years old, Steen backed Etta James on drums. Steen thought this was his big chance, so he went all out … let’s just say Ms. James didn’t appreciate it. Listen to the hilarious story below.

Tom Grant’s father, a Jewish man, bought a jazz store in the middle of the African-American community. As a kid, Grant saw people dancing in the stores … he loved it.  He also talks about “race music,” a phrase he explains in his own words below.

Jazz musician Marilyn Keller breaks down her musical beginnings, moving from New Mexico to Portland. She explains what a “basement band” is, and how she and her band mates went from unknowns to headliners.

 “Isn’t that wonderful? There’s not one black child in this school.” Below Lorna Bracken Baxter explains what made her childhood teacher say this to her entire class and the other hardships of growing up as child of color in Portland.

Norman Sylvester reminisces about the absolute beauty of the Williams Avenue community. To him, it was a feeling of unity. He also speaks on how the city can get that sense of community back in present day Portland.  A touching talk on history from Mr. Sylvester.

Carlton Jackson talks about the old Portland, and how he grew up with all types of people. He also discusses gentrification and how one day, someone crossed the street because of the color of his skin. He says it’s almost “fear driven.”

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