(Portland, Oregon) — Portland, Oregon’s great jazz pianist, composer, and educator Darrell Grant has been recognized as Portland’s Jazz Hero for 2017 by the national Jazz Journalist Association (JJA). Awards are presented to "Educators, Presenters, Philanthropists, Fans, Players and Recordings Producers--Hailed as 'Activists, Advocates, Altruists, Aiders and Abettors of Jazz'" who further the artform in their communities. Grant’s award will be presented on International Jazz Day, April 30, 2017, by writer Lynn Darroch at the Portland Art Museum. The event will begin at 1:00 p.m. with the award presentation followed by PDX Jazz’s Incredible Journey of Jazz program. At 3:00 pm, Grant’s MJ New Quartet will perform a set entitled the Sounds of Identity. The entire program is free with Portland Art Museum admission. Tickets and information: http://bit.ly/2ozyTMM
Recent Portland Jazz Hero designees have included Bobby Torres (2016) and Mel Brown (2015).
The Jazz Journalist Association awards were announced on Monday, April 3 here: http://www.jjajazzawards.org/2017/04/2017-jja-jazz-heroes-named.html.
About Darrell Grant — Official JJA Bio
Even though his 1994 album The Black Art made the New York Times’s list of the year’s top ten jazz recordings, pianist Darrell Grant wasn’t satisfied.
“I didn’t feel my music was having the kind of impact I wanted,” he recalls. “I was looking for a place where I could make a contribution and serve. Where I could try to connect the music more with the community.”
So in 1996, when a position in Portland State University’s music department opened up, Grant was ready. In the years since, the Denver native has established a vital place for himself in the area, which Jazz Journalists of America recognizes in celebrating him as Portland’s 2017 Jazz Hero.
Continuing his recording and performing career after resettling here, Grant also helped establish a degree program in jazz at PSU. And he launched and managed the university’s jazz club, LV’s Uptown, designed to connect students with a living jazz culture. He achieved local recognition performing onstage nearly every week, borrowing collaborative techniques of nonprofit arts groups to create partnerships with businesses and government agencies for building jazz in Portland.
Grant’s more public role led to something else he’d come looking for: “A place where you walk down the street and people know who you are.” The booklet accompanying his 1999 album Smokin’ Java tells, in fictional form, of how he found that recognition in Portland. A jazz pianist caps his day-long odyssey with a coffeehouse performance where he finds the acceptance he’s been looking for and realizes that his adopted city is a good place to be.
The lesson, Grant says, is, “Community is not something you find, it’s something you open yourself to, and that opens to you in return.” And indeed, being part of this community has led Darrell to more fully be himself.
When he arrived, he had a bachelor’s degree in classical piano from the Eastman School of Music and a graduate degree in jazz studies from the University of Miami. Grant showed he could play in bands led by Roy Haynes and Betty Carter. But in Portland, he learned to define success in a different way.
“Being here, I’ve been encouraged to explore my own personal vision, and I’ve had the opportunity to do it,” Grant says. No other jazz projects have attempted to capture the landscape and history of this region like his epic suite The Territory. Written for a nine-piece jazz band and a singer/narrator, its seven movements include paeans to the landscape as well as a section depicting The Golden West Hotel, the first African-American establishment in Portland. On a grand scale, it captures the sense of place that is expressed tangentially by most jazz made in the Pacific Northwest.
“My hypothesis was that music is shaped by a connection to the terrain — both the physical place and the community from which it springs,” Grant says. “Can I capture that sound? I've always been trying to get at it in some way in every piece… If we can make ourselves sensitive to this place, then all the stuff that has happened here will affect us. I wanted to tap into that collective memory.”
Darrell Grant has tapped into Portland’s collective memory, and, as a Jazz Hero, is adding to it.
— Lynn Darroch