Get jazzed about Oregon’s history with ‘From Maxville to Vanport’

Maxville to Vanport

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 11.12.07 AMThe Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble is currently touring with a thoughtfully curated collection of original songs and short films that tell the story of two little-known Oregon towns and the diverse residents that made them unique.

“From Maxville to Vanport” celebrates the shared history of African-American Oregonians, focusing on the distinctive viewpoints of the state’s under-discussed black history.

“It isn’t widely known, but among the homesteaders, loggers, ranchers and other hardy folks who were Oregon’s early settlers, African-Americans played vital roles,” PJCE Executive Director Douglas Detrick said. “In this program, songs like ‘Oregon Sounds Like Freedom’ weigh the relative freedom of living in Oregon against the hardship of staying in the Jim Crow South.”

Detrick is the artistic director for the project. The team drew heavily on records and research from Gwendolyn Trice, executive director of Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center, whose family lived and worked in Maxville.

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 11.12.14 AMThe year-long project began with community discussions in Portland and Joseph, and
culminates in this concert series, a studio album and a short documentary film.

Composer Ezra Weiss joined lyricist S. Renee Mitchell and jazz vocalist Marilyn Keller to craft songs that accompany Kalimah Abioto’s short films.

“From Maxville to Vanport” invites its audience to ponder whether the dangerous work of felling logs in Wallowa County was worth the pain of leaving one’s birth community through joyful music composed and performed in Oregon. Meanwhile, Abioto’s films focus on the work women did in Maxville, and a young boy playing in an imagined Vanport who encounters rushing waters that foreshadow the flood that destroyed the Portland-area city in 1948.

The tour will make three stops in Northeast Oregon this week. The tour will conclude in May during Portland’s Vanport Mosaic Festival.

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 11.12.23 AMThe project was generously funded by the Oregon Community Foundation’s Creative Heights program and was sponsored by the Oregon Historical Society. Project partners include Eastern Oregon University, Vanport Mosaic, Josephy Center for Arts and Culture, Crossroads Carnegie Center for the Arts, Baker Heritage Museum and the OK Theatre.

La Grande

The first concert of the tour will be held at EOU. The show, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7:30 p.m. April 12.

During its campus visit, PJCE will host a special performance for students and a master class during which the ensemble will work directly with EOU’s jazz ensemble, 45th Parallel. Smaller workshop sessions will focus on composers and vocalists.

Wallowa County

“From Maxville to Vanport” will stop in Enterprise on April 13. The multi-media concert will begin at 7 p.m. at the OK Theatre, 208 W. Main St. The cost is $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and veterans and $10 for students. Tickets are available at, M. Crow and Co., The Dollar Stretcher, Joseph Hardware and The Bookloft.

The Josephy Center for Arts and Culture, 403 N. Main St., Joseph, is hosting an exhibit through May 28 to complement the concert.

Baker County

The Baker Heritage Museum, 2480 Grove St., in conjunction with Crossroads Carnegie Art Center, will host the April 14 concert, which includes a dinner and silent auction. Tickets cost $50, and proceeds will benefit programs at the art center and the museum. The auction will benefit Crossroad’s Hand to Heart Scholarship Fund and the museum’s youth programs. Doors open at 5 p.m.

More about PJCE

The 12-piece jazz chamber orchestra commissions and performs original works by jazz composers in Oregon. Its mission includes engaging and enriching community awareness.

PJCE was founded in 2007 by pianist Andrew Oliver and saxophonist Gus Slayton after the pair graduated from Portland State University. They wanted to continue to create new music.

The first concerts were informal examples of a like-minded group of young musicians getting together to create new sounds and experiment with the textures of large ensemble jazz. The band premiered more than 20 new compositions in its first few years and eventually established itself as a nonprofit corporation in 2010.

In 2013, Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble Records was created. In the first year the label released one album per month, often recorded in informal live sessions designed to reflect the immediacy of the music’s creation and the natural sound of the groups.

The Ensemble launched its podcast “Beyond Category” in 2015 to expand the organization’s platform and give artists an opportunity to share their stories and music with a wider audience.

More details and tickets are available at

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