In the 1940s and ‘50s, Portland’s jazz scene was a mixture of cultural progression and intense audio experience.
Along Williams Avenue in the Northeast quadrant of the city, musical greats played, socialized and created tangible wonder on a nightly basis. They called the strip of 24/7 music “The Stem.”
Unfortunately, close to a decade after its emergence, the once vibrant African-American community was systematically decimated, leaving a void the city and the Pacific Northwest has yet to fill.
But something as transcendent as social music, or jazz, never truly dies, and the whispers of those defining times can still be heard today at several spots around the city. Here are just a few of the places around Portland that capture the essence of yesteryear.
Home Sweet Home: The place for you, no matter who you are — is Solae’s. Featuring one of the most diverse crowds in Portland, Solae’s Lounge captures your spirit with a family atmosphere and an intimate jazz setting.
Featuring the Christopher Brown Quartet every Friday night, patrons can jam along with the band, challenge someone to a game of pool, or discuss everything from music to the meaning of life on the huge back deck. Located on Alberta Street, this spot embodies the soul and community feel of a modern-day Jumptown.
Dinner And A Standard: Located in the heart of downtown Portland, Jimmy Mak’s has long been the premiere spot for jazz enthusiasts and novice listeners to enjoy a refined night on the town. Grab a table for dinner and dessert or ease back and catch the scene at one of the two bars adorning the back wall.
Every night of the week is blessed with live jazz from local legends as well as musicians swinging into town from all over the world. The ambiance is romance. The music is eclectic. A majestic night on the bandstand is always just a few notes away.
Clyde’s Prime Rib & Restaurant
The Jam Session: An ageless venue for an ageless music. On Sunday nights, Portland’s legendary drummer Ron Steen serves as the master of ceremonies, guiding the musical direction, joking with regulars and setting a mood that mirrors the unique aesthetic of Clyde’s Prime Rib Restaurant and Bar. Musicians from all over town stop by to hang out, laugh at the beauty of life and, of course, take time to play, sing and dance.
For 30 years, Steen has provided a jam session in Portland, and there’s no sign it’s going to slow down anytime soon. The laid-back Portland atmosphere comes equipped with a few video poker machines and, at the right time of night, Judy, a regular, will give a tap dance performance.
The Week Starter: Social cocoons, begone! Break free of that case of the Mondays with fusion jazz, which colors the background at this bustling duck-off in the industrial part of town. The all-night happy hour on Mondays is all the inspiration one needs to witness local artists riff bluesy tunes from 7 to 9 p.m.
Originally opened in 1953, “The Row,” has endured many changes over the years, just like Portland itself. The outdoor patio is a gem in good weather, and is sure to be one of the most social spots in the southeast part of the city. Produce Row serves just one dessert, perhaps the only one you’ll need: an ice cream waffle sandwich — with bacon.