JIM DRAKE’S ENTERTAINMENT BLOG: Local stories; jazz music combine for pod-cast format inspired show

Lyrics to songs usually tell stories, and music certainly can create feeling for those stories — but the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble is taking a new step in their repertoire by presenting original music integrated with pre-recorded narration during their live show.

Such is the “Oregon Stories” program coming up on April 1, at the Columbia Center for the Arts. Music director Douglas Detrick will lead a 12-piece jazz band and take listeners through three different story narrations of Oregonians who achieved success despite coming from minority communities.

“I’m a junkie of radio storytelling, and what turned me on to this project the most was listening to the pod-cast format like “This American Life,” and I thought that was a great way to do some storytelling types of projects,” Detrick said.

Having the music skills as a composer and trumpeter, Douglass wanted to apply his craft to telling history and talking about culture.

“I’ve been interested in Oregon history since I grew up here, and especially interesting to me is the minority that haven’t historically been treated well, those are the ones I wanted to work with for this project.

In order to mesh the storytelling with music Douglass collaborated with KMHD Radio Producer Jessica Rand, who did the interviewing and recording for the narration, which includes Hood River native Linda Tamura. Tamura tells the story of George Akiyama, a Hood River resident who was threatened with violence after serving in WWII.

“The stories will be told by the subjects of the story or people very close to the subjects, like Linda who did the historical research on George Akiyama. I’ll basically be controlling the audio portion with a footswitch, turning it on and off as the music is played. The audio has been carefully edited and arranged to best tell the story,” Detrick said.

Narrator Tamura’s voice will be heard in the program, and she’s anxious to hear how the program will come together.

“I’ll actually be intrigued to see and hear the final performance, because I answered questions and told the story to Jessica at OPB’s recording studio. I’ll be hearing this for the first time when the show comes to Hood River,” Tamura said.

On one front, this presentation is a narrative on minorities overcoming obstacles in their lives, and Tamura focused on communicating that.

“When we see others treated unfairly, we need to have the courage to step forward and speak out,” Tamura said.

But she’s interested in how the music will be incorporated and looks forward hearing how it will add to the narrative.

“This story demonstrates the lows and the highs of human character so I look forward to hearing how music underscores these acts of discrimination and justice. The Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble is creative and forward thinking in dramatizing these stories and I’m so pleased to be participating,” Tamura said.

The show is choreographed so everyone should be able to hear the spoken words and still enjoy all the music. And Douglass stressed that all three stories — George Akiyama told by Tamura; Captain Deborah Dempsey, the first woman river pilot to guide ocean-going vessels over the Columbia River Bar, telling her own story; and DeNorval Unthank, a Portland African-American physician and civil rights leader as told by his daughter Lesley Unthank — will be presented. The program is about 90 minutes.

The music was composed with help from pianist Darrel Grant and well-known film composer Mark Orton.

“Because of the depth of their experience in these things, I felt these guys would really help us connect the music to the stories,” Detrick said.

I asked Tamura if she thought her story is more relevant today due to recent events in Hood River concerning the physical attack on the Buddhist monk Kozen Sampson.

“I was so sorry to learn of the assault on Kozen Sampson — but also proud of the quick response by my hometown. Unfortunately, we hear and read too often about unprincipled actions against others. So I’m an advocate for recognizing positive role models — of all ages,” Tamura said.

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