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Music professor Darrell Grant named a "Jazz Hero" by the Jazz Journalists Association
Author: Lynn Darroch, Jazz Journalists Association
Posted: April 4, 2017

Read the original article on the Jazz Journalist Association's website. 

About the Jazz Hero Awards

The Jazz Journalists Association is pleased to announce the 2017 Jazz Heroes: Advocates, altruists, activists, aiders and abettors of jazz who have had significant impact in their local communities. The 'Jazz Hero' awards, made annually on the basis of nominations from community members, are presented by their local fans and friends in conjunction with the JJA's annual Jazz Awards honoring significant achievements in jazz music and journalism.

Darrell Grant: 2017 Portland OR Jazz Hero


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. He was 32 at the time. "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, Darrell was ready. In the years since, this Denver native has created a vital place for himself in the area, well deserving celebration as Portland's 2017 Jazz Hero.

After resettling here 21 years ago, Grant continued to record and perform while helping to introduce and develop a degree program in jazz at PSU. He launched and managed the university's jazz club, LV's Uptown, designed to connect students with a living jazz culture, and gained local notice by playing onstage nearly every week. He borrowed collaborative strategies he'd observed from nonprofit arts groups to partner with businesses and government agencies in building jazz in Portland.

Grant's public activity led to what he'd come for: "A place where you walk down the street and people know who you are." In notes for his 1999 album Smokin' Java he fictionalizes an epiphany: A jazz pianist caps his day-long odyssey with a coffeehouse performance where he gets the acceptance he's sought and realizes that his adopted city is a pretty 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."

Indeed, being part of this community has led Grant to more fully be himself. When he arrived, he had a bachelor's degree in classical piano and a graduate degree in jazz studies. He'd gained credibility and acclaim playing in bands led by Roy Haynes and Betty Carter, among others. But in Portland, he learned to define success in a different way. (Among other things, he happily became a father).

"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 captured the landscape and history of this region like his epic suite The Territory, in seven movements for nine-piece ensemble and singer-narrator. Including paeans to our scenic splendors as well as a section on The Golden West Hotel, Portland's first African-American establishment, The Territory addresses on a grand scale the sense of place most jazz made in the Pacific Northwest touches only tangentially.

"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, Jazz Hero, both taps into Portland's collective memory and adds immeasurably to it.


Darrell Grant's Jazz Hero award presentation by PDX Jazz: 

April 30, 3 p.m. 

Whitsett Theater Portland Art Museum

1219 SW Park Ave Portland, OR