Feb 22 2011

B DarwishIn a town like Portland, blessedly overflowing with indie rock bands, sometimes jazz gets overlooked. Portland actually has quite a strong jazz scene, and, as befitting our unconventional little burg, that scene is home to a creative substratum that likes to push the boundaries of the genre.

Our monthly jazz series Notes From the Underground (at the Mission Theater) aims to give local music fans some exposure to that substratum. The series, hosted by local jazz raconteur Ben Darwish, features some of the most creative jazz artists around, virtuosos who aren't afraid to bang together genres and playing styles, expanding the boundaries of what jazz is "supposed" to be.

Another cool thing about NFTU: Taking full advantage of the Mission's theater capabilities, Darwish will be screening vintage and/or unusual jazz footage on the big screen.

Damian ErskineSound intriguing? Check out some upcoming shows: Wednesday, February 23rd, Damian Erskine will emerge from the Underground, and March 1 the series hosts the Ezra Weiss Quartet.

I could tell you more, but I figured what better source than the man running the show himself. So I asked Ben some questions to get the lowdown on the Underground:

1. What's the aim of Notes From the Underground

To have a regular monthly night of progressive music in Portland.  There's nothing else like it right now.  Our tagline is "jazz without borders" because we want it to be open-ended.  The music is jazz oriented but we have world music and funk bands play at the series too. 

2. What can patrons expect when they come to a NFTU night?

A beautiful, historic venue and live music from some of the top musicians in the Northwest. Also, a classic jazz film is always shown during the set break on the big screen.  Great way to spend a Tuesday evening.

3. Tell me about some visiting musicians you are especially excited about?

I'm really excited about every group that's coming up.  Back by popular demand, the Damian Erskine Project will be playing a special show for the Portland Jazz Festival on February 23rd.  Damian is a virtuosic bassist and his band is par none.  Following his band, the Ezra Weiss Quartet will play on March 1st.  Ezra is one of my favorite composers in town and has a Monkish approach to his style.  In April, The Kora Band, led by Andrew Oliver, will wow the audience with their blend of jazz and African music.  The band features a kora, which is a 21-stringed harp from West Africa, played by Kane Mathis.  Kane is one of the most in-demand kora players anywhere and was even featured on Joanna Newsom's newest album, Have One On Me.

4. What's the concept behind the jazz footage in between sets? Also, is it just movies, or also classic footage and things like that?

It's classic footage of a musical performance.  Sometimes is more recent footage but it's always rare or hard to find.  Since the Mission Theater is set up to show movies, we thought we'd incorporate that into the concert.  We've found that the footage alone attracts music connoisseurs to the show.

5. How's the response been?

Overall, really good.  We typically see crowds of 80 or more people for shows.  The bigger shows have been the Blue Cranes and the Damian Erskine Project at over twice that.

6. If you could tell someone who hasn't been to an NFTU event one thing to get them to come, what would it be?

It's a great way to expand your musical palate.  You probably don't listen to most of these bands, and chances are, you'll probably like it!

About the author: Jonanna Widner, McMenamins Music Marketing Assistant, is a former music editor for the Santa Fe Reporter and the Dallas Observer.
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