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Bringin’ It Back Home

Eugene-bred jazzers return to roost

Like swallows to Capistrano, the prodigal jazzers are flying back to Eugene. Over the past decade or so, the UO music school has regularly cranked out attention-getting young musicians who combine promising technique with creative ambition. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for most of these students to leave town — and Oregon — as they seek out new challenges and opportunities.

Many Eugene-trained musicians who focused primarily on jazz and contemporary postclassical music wound up in New York City, where it’s at least theoretically possible for a promising young performer to find mentors, grab the attention of music business types who can advance their careers, soak up ideas and inspiration from the world’s jazz and new music capital, and maybe eventually cobble together a living through teaching and the occasional paying gig. 

Next week, thanks in part to this month’s UO jazz camp, several of those prodigal Ducks are coming back to Eugene to visit old haunts and old friends and show us what they’ve learned in the ensuing years. On Friday, July 27, sweet-toned trumpeter Josh Deutsch returns to play his original music — with a quintet featuring fellow UO alums Jason Palmer on drums and the excellent Portland pianist Greg Goebel — for this season’s final concert in the Broadway Avenue House Concert series at 911 W. Broadway. Now living in Queens, the Seattle-born Deutsch earned his master’s degree at the UO in 2009; he’s performed at major jazz festivals and won some attention as a category-defying composer, with commissions of jazz, contemporary classical and areas in between, from the Seattle Symphony and others.

While living in Eugene a few years back, Deutsch led an ensemble called Poisonous Birds that featured an extremely promising composer and saxophonist, Hashem Assadullahi, who moved to New York City a year or so ago. The night after Deutsch’s concert, Saturday, July 28, Assadullahi returns to play a concert at the Jazz Station with a quartet of longtime colleagues, including Portland guitarist Justin Morell, bassist Tyler Abbott and drummer Ryan Biesack. They’ll play some of the striking, guitar-enhanced new works featured on Assadullahi’s upcoming CD. It’ll also be a bachelor party — Assadullahi gets married the next day.

A few years before Deutsch and Assadullahi roamed the UO scene, other ambitious UO music students were somehow able to find time between classes, recitals, practice sessions and the rest to create original soundtracks to classic films (much more common these days hereabouts than it was then) and stage other events somewhat afield of standard academic settings. One of them was Brian McWhorter, a phenomenal trumpeter who went on to become one of New York’s first-call new music horn men, revivifying the Meridian Arts Ensemble and earning a national reputation.

McWhorter returned to Eugene a few years ago as a member of the UO music faculty, and he also leads the adventurous new music ensemble Beta Collide. That sextet plays Aug. 1 at Sam Bond’s in a show that features a sterling cast of fellow UO faculty members, including saxophonist Steve Owen, keyboard whiz Toby Koenigsberg, percussionist Pius Cheung and several other fine players. Beta Collide will perform arrangements of music by the late, great Montreal-based world music singer Lhasa de Sela, an early Lilith Fair star who sang lovely, haunting originals in Spanish, English and French before succumbing in 2010 to breast cancer at age 37.

Beta Collide will open for McWhorter’s old UO colleague, Kyle Sanna, who composed and played guitar in new silent film scores and other projects. He’s lived in — where else? — New York for more than a decade and is now based in the new music hot spot of Brooklyn. Sanna is returning with fiddler Dana Lynn. Together, they’ll play a wide selection of eclectic music ranging from traditional Irish tunes to originals to improvisations.