“We want this to be educational,” says drummer and bandleader Akbar DePriest about the Family Jazz Concerts he’s been leading in Portland since 1991. “We want to get the youngsters in and expose them to the music.”
With an increase to three concerts a year and a bump in the age for free admission up to 17, DePriest is renewing his efforts to present jazz and blues outside nightclub settings. He also wants to pass along the rich heritage he absorbed as a youth in the music scene on Central Avenue in Los Angeles and during a career that began on the chitlin’ circuit with Big Maybelle, blossomed in Chicago with the likes of Rashan Roland Kirk and Eddie Harris, and continued on the stages of Europe and, later, in Denver, where he ran his own nightclub. He moved to Portland in 1987.
That varied experience helps explain why DePriest, who passed away at age 77 in 2007, doesn’t want to see jazz separated from its blues roots.
“We want the youngsters to hear jazz and blues in the same setting,” he says, “so they will hear it coming from the same source. When I came up, T-Bone Walker and Duke Ellington would play on the same stage; we got the blues and jazz on the same plate.”
And who better to demonstrate that jazz-blues connection than saxophonist Red Holloway, 78, who will headline the next DePriest Family Jazz concert on Saturday, August 20.
“Red is known for both blues and jazz,” says DePriest, who often crossed paths with Holloway in Chicago and Los Angeles. “Red was the main man at the Parisian Room and brought all that jazz into Los Angeles. He also had big bands and was like an educator down there.”
Holloway came to fame in the early 1960s while touring with B-3 organ legend Jack McDuff, and he made many recordings with R&B greats while maintaining his jazz reputation with stars such as Sonny Stitt and Clark Terry. Holloway, a California resident, has become a Portland favorite and appeared at a DePriest concert here three years ago.
Also accompanying Holloway will be bassist Dennis Caiazza and pianist Jof Lee, a frequent associate of DePriest since they first met in Denver 30 years ago. And that familiarity will help the rhythm section keep up with the unpredictable Holloway, who “plays the room,” DePriest says, rather than following a set list. But that’s not difficult when you know where the music’s coming from.
“I say that gospel is the mother, blues is the father, and jazz, because of all its varied expressions, is the offspring,” says DePriest with a laugh. “It’s the evolution of the art form that brings us to where we are today.”