Jumptown: The Golden Years of Portland Jazz 1941-1957
Softcover; 288 pages
Oregon State University Press
Portland, Oregon isn't one of the cities that first pops into one's mind as a major jazz center, but author Robert Dietsche makes a compelling case for the contributions of musicians based in or passing through the city from the early days of World War II until urban renewal helped destroy most of its once vibrant 24 hour jazz scene by 1957. The construction of Bonneville Dam in 1937 and the luring of a number of shipyards to the now-navigable Columbia River helped fuel the growth of numerous nightclubs around Williams Ave in the Black section of Portland.
Although a number of famous musicians are mentioned, Dietsche's primary focus is upon the stories of the locals, including players, teachers, club owners, record store owners, fans and promoters. Interviews with surviving witnesses to the era, whether musicians, relatives or audience members bring many of the events depicted to life, complemented by a healthy mix of photographs from the era, often taken on location. Even though many of the region's musicians never achieved widespread fame away from Portland, Dietsche's description of their skills makes one want to track down their long out-of-print records, or at least conjure up what it must have been like to enjoy the musicians in person. He shares little known details about Lorraine Geller and Wardell Gray (both of whom died far too young before reaching their potential), though his portraits of locally based players are every bit as fascinating.