Jazz sometimes gets slagged as mainly grooves for dudes, but women have always contributed enormously to the genre, even if they’ve not received attention proportionate to their contributions. This Thursday, Aug. 13 at The Shedd, the Oregon Festival of American Music (OFAM) showcases three of the most popular female jazz singers of the 1920s.
Bessie Smith, dubbed the empress of the blues, brought that rural Southern sound to a white, urban Northern audience: New York’s vaudeville stages. So did Ethel Waters, who scored national hits with blues as well as ballads and other pop numbers, introducing such classics as “Am I Blue?” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.” She worked with major bandleaders like Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson, eventually moving into Broadway shows and film stardom. Annette Hanshaw personified the flapper girl on records in the late ’20s and early ’30s, recording hits by Fats Waller and others, but retired so early that’s she’s the least known of the trio today. Accompanied by Jesse Cloninger and the Festival Hot 5, OFAM singers Siri Vik, Clairdee and Marisa Frantz will sing standards like “Body and Soul,” “St. Louis Blues” and “Stormy Weather” as well as lesser known hits from the period like “I’m a Jazz Vampire.”
Vik, Clairdee, Cloninger’s band and the great trumpeter Byron Stripling pay tribute to two of America’s greatest songwriters on Friday, Aug. 14, in OFAM’s matinee concert devoted to the music of Dorothy Fields (who co-wrote classics like “On the Sunny Side of the Street”) and Andy Razaf, whose many hits for Waller and others include “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” Ellington’s music takes the spotlight that night when Cloninger’s band, Stripling, Vik and Clairdee join singers Shirley Andress and Bill Hulings for a cabaret performance that revives the Duke’s days and nights as the nationally renowned house band at Harlem’s Cotton Club from 1927 to 1930.
The Saturday, Aug. 15, matinee turns to musical theater revues like the Ziegfeld Follies and musical comedies, which spawned some of the greatest songwriters in history: the Gershwin brothers, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. Backed by the Emerald City Jazz Kings, Andress, Evynne Hollens, Ian Whitcomb and Michael Stone sing famous hits like “I Got Rhythm,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” songs from Showboat and much more. Saturday night’s big show puts Stripling in the spotlight (with the festival’s hot band and Clairdee) playing the music of immortal trumpeter Louis Armstrong — by any reckoning one of history’s most important musicians — from his greatest era: the 1920s “Hot Fives” and “Hot Sevens” recordings that set the template for most of the American popular music that followed.
The festival closes with a Sunday, Aug. 16, afternoon tea party featuring the music of the 1920s’ so-called “society bands,” like those led by Henderson, Paul Whiteman and more. The usual Shedd suspects will perform music made famous by the great singers of the day like Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallée, including some then-popular music that’s unfortunately obscure today. OFAM’s time-traveling musical festival is one of Oregon’s most delightful and educational summer traditions. For a full lineup of OFAM events, visit theshedd.org.
The so-called hot jazz of the 1920s and ’30s spotlighted by OFAM this summer eventually gave way to a cool jazz movement beginning in the early 1950s, and a couple of visiting contemporary jazz bands coming to The Jazz Station this weekend draw on that laid-back tradition. On Friday, Aug. 14, Portland’s Trio Subtonic (pianist Galen Clark, bassist Bill Athens, drummer Russ Kleiner) brings its engaging grooves, fueled by pop influences ranging from New Orleans funk to Brazilian bossa to hip hop.
On Saturday, Aug. 15, the Station hosts flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny’s band, playing music from its 10th album, Sagebrush Rebellion, which includes jazz classics, West Coast Cool Jazz and standards from the same mythical Great American Songbook that OFAM helps keep alive.