Jazz may be America’s greatest gift to music, but since its late ’50s heyday, the art form has too often become marginalized by the same process familiar to classical music fans: devolving into either endless recycling of the same old standards (to appeal to a rigidly conservative audience that basically wants to hear its record collections played live) or an extreme avant-garde content to play shrieky, “out” sounds for a tiny in-group audience. Neither is a recipe for building new audiences or sustainable artistic growth.
In recent years especially, plenty of exceptions to this false dilemma have emerged, and one of the most promising arrives at The Shedd April 27. Since first hooking up in Minneapolis more than two decades ago, and reuniting in New York in 2000, The Bad Plus have been expanding the audience for improvised instrumental music by persuasively covering tunes from pop artists as diverse as The Flaming Lips, Abba, Nirvana and Blondie. But they’ve also drawn praise for their respectful takes on music by jazz legends like Paul Motian and Ornette Coleman, and partnerships with Joshua Redman and Bill Frisell. Their adventurous yet accessible improvisatory powers, built principally on the creative tension between classically trained pianist Ethan Iverson and indie-rock-driven drummer David King, with bassist Reid Anderson providing ideal musical mediation, has earned the band much broader, younger audiences than most jazzers. Last year, the trio unleashed a centenary jazz trio tribute arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and their splendid new CD, Made Possible, adds electronic garnishes and, like their last studio album, a whole lineup of original music to the band’s already rich palette.
Thursday, April 25, The Shedd hosts another great jazz popularizer, singer-guitarist-radio host John Pizzarelli, whose latest album, Double Exposure, also transforms rock-era pop hits into jazz, which really was nothing more than what the original jazz pioneers were doing with their music in the 1930s and ’40s. Pizzarelli knows his way around those standards and is always an audience fave at The Shedd. The venue brings back yet another perennially popular performer on May 1, when Hawaiian folk music duo Hapa returns with the original lineup of Barry Flanagan and Ron Kuala’au.
Shedd regulars Shirley Andress, Bill Hulings, Vicki Brabham and Evynne Hollens get a bigger stage this April 27 at the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall when the Eugene Concert Choir performs music from Broadway musicals stretching back to George M. Cohan through mid-century classics like My Fair Lady and West Side Story to recent popular shows like Mamma Mia! and The Lion King.
True Life Trio sings an outrageously diverse program of music from Albania, Appalachia, Bulgaria, Poland and South Africa May 5 at The Yoga Center of Corvallis. And at another yoga studio, Just Breathe at 28th and Willamette on May 4, two of the Northwest’s finest Indian music Joshes, the Portland-based sitar player Feinberg and Eugene tabla master Humphrey, perform.
The UO Chamber Choir will represent the U.S. at one of the world’s most important choral convocations, Cork International Choral Festival in Ireland. At their fundraising concert on April 25 at Beall Hall, you can help make sure everyone can afford the plane fare, and hear the choir’s diverse competition program, ranging from Baroque madrigals to gospel.
The UO’s electronic music program, Future Music Oregon, hosts a pair of forward-looking concerts at Thelma Schnitzer Hall. Future Music Oregon welcomes the elder statesman of academic computer music, the prizewinning composer James Dashow on April 27, and the rising younger computer music composers Scott Wyatt and Gabriel Montufar on May 4. On April 30, the school’s turnEnsemble plays new music for pianos, guitars, strings, percussion and winds by composers from Oregon, Chicago and beyond. And on May 1, the UO’s third annual Emerging Artist Series free concert showcases its top student performers in music by Charles Ives, Debussy, Enesco and one of today’s leading composers, Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang.