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New Institute Takes Shape to Preserve and Promote Jazz
New Institute Takes Shape to Preserve and Promote Jazz

Take one fired-up musician/scholar, a network of community partners and the legacy of a beloved jazz legend. Mix thoroughly and jam a while. What do you get? Portland State's new Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute, eagerly launching its mission to advance the uniquely American art form of jazz.

Leroy Vinnegar, the "Master of the Walking Bass," was born in Indiana but made Portland his home. He played with most of the major jazz figures of the 20th century and made over 800 recordings. But Vinnegar's influence went beyond that. "Leroy was a model for me that it's about more than just playing music," says Institute director, jazz pianist, recording artist and Associate Professor of Music Darrell Grant. "He was an artist of international stature who was also deeply engaged as a mentor and advocate for the art form." It seemed natural to name PSU's institute in Vinnegar's memory. "What we want to do," Grant continues, "is share the history of jazz and promote today's living jazz culture. Our entire focus is education and outreach through community-based partnerships."

One of the Vinnegar Institute's first programs is the "Jazz Outreach Forum," in which Portland State students develop curriculum and teach elementary school students about the history and culture of jazz. Another project, "Incredible Journey of Jazz," brings a presentation on jazz around the world to classrooms in the metropolitan area.

On the drawing board? "We want to support the music making process here in our community. One idea I'm excited about is the "New Griot Project," a workshop for youth doing hip-hop," says Grant. "Griot is a traditional name for an African-American poet/storyteller. A lot of people think that the most vital art form for the generation coming up will be poetry and spoken-word-and hip-hop is definitely in the center of that. Through the doorway of jazz, we'll try to help youth acquire tools and ideas that deepen their ability to express themselves musically. Young artists need to be taken seriously and this is one way to do that."

Generous seed funding from Ken and Marta '90 Thrasher and support from Vinnegar's estate helped get the Jazz Institute rolling. Add your name to the list of donors. For more information, contact