VanPort Jazz

Big Band Jazz

Not From Portland

One of the comments I receive quite frequently from our listeners is how “tight” the band sounds. It is wonderful to have the work recognized. Every member of the ensemble performs either semi-professionally or professionally. The dedication given by each individual makes it an enriching experience. I remember this past summer when our ensemble performed at the Portland5 Noontime concert series in downtown Portland. A gentleman came up to me following our performance and said, “Your group can’t be be from Portland, OR.” I had said we were not from Portland, and asked him how he knew. His response was, “there is no big band in the city of Portland that plays this tight.” What a great compliment to the men and women who make this exciting and joyful music possible. The phrase, “must play tighter” is something I say in almost every rehearsal for the past six years.

— Cary Pederson (Director/Owner of VanPort Jazz)

Another time at band camp...

So in 1974 I rode the Greyhound from Eugene OR to Sacramento for the Stan Kenton band camp. The trip was interesting in that we had to stop the bus at one point because the luggage compartment had come open. Which greatly concerned me because I had brought the school's new Selmer MK VI bari and a bass clarinet. Luckily they did not end up in the weeds, but some people's luggage did.

Anyway I got there and hooked up with some folks I had met the previous year, one of whom was another bari player named Norman. He was from SFO and rode out on his Honda to Sacramento with his bari strapped to the back. Brave man.

At the end of the first day of the week-long camp we had been assigned bands and charts to work on during the week. My band had as its feature a Hank Levy chart called Indra, which was a kind of exotic sounding piece in 9/8 if I remember correctly. AND it had a soprano sax solo in the bari part. I didn't have a soprano, so I had no idea what to do. But Norman saved me - he had just bought a new Selmer soprano, which he quickly loaned to me as he wasn't going to use it that week. It was a beautiful horn and played like a dream. It was amazing how easy it was to play, and fast. A lot less metal moving around. I had never played soprano sax before, but I quickly learned the horn and brought it with me on Friday to the closing concert.

So there I was in front of Stan and many others onstage on Friday, wailing away on the soprano during Indra. I remember sitting down at the end, and playing it back in my head, and wondering if I had become a little too much excited by the ability of the soprano to bend notes. But people clapped, and that was that. But I kept thinking about it, and became convinced that I had played a terrible dissonant solo, and that became stuck in my head. I had played a crappy solo in front of Stan Kenton.

Fast forward 40 years. Kenton is long dead, and I had mostly forgotten all about it. I played a Hank Levy chart one night in another band, and got to thinking about Indra. So I found the Kenton band recording and listened to it. Brought back some memories, and you know what? That soprano solo was pretty dissonant too! It sounded a lot like what I remembered playing.

So maybe I wasn't so far off the mark after all back in 1974.


I'm always amazed by the number of people I meet who have been musicians in the past and keep wishing they could get back into it. Yesterday I participated in a KGW video shoot promoting the upcoming Pearson Air Museum Hanger Dance, and I met the camera guy whose name was Ken McCormick. Turns out Ken is also a jazz trombonist and played in big bands in the past. His schedule doesn't currently allow him to get back into it, but the conversation got me to thinking about how many people I meet like him. People that played in high school or college or even since then, and might be looking for an opportunity to pick up the horn (or whatever) again and be part of a great band. Maybe you're retired and looking for a hobby, maybe you're a music educator and are looking for a performance opportunity. Or maybe you just need to PLAY.

If that describes you, and you have some experience at this style of music, let us know. We are always looking for good players who want to be part of a friendly fun group.

Unclear expectations…

Oct 10, 2016 / Tony Adams
In 1972, some high school friends and I had a working Dixieland/Dance band – piano, drums, trumpet, clarinet/sax, trombone and tuba – we were young and didn’t know anything about gigging, so the reed player’s dad, who was a musician from wartime Britain and had stacks of Dixie and dance band combo charts from the 30’s & 40’s, managed us. He did a great job - he found us a gig about once a month, and we made $240 per gig – a nice sum today! We played some odd venues, to be sure, but the most memorable was a nighttime corporate holiday party. We opened with, I believe, King Chanticleer, followed by Basin St. Blues,  St. James Infirmary and a couple of other standards. There was a smattering of applause and some derisive hoots, as the drinks had been flowing before we arrived.
At our first break, a large swarthy man (apparently the owner of the company throwing the party), holding a highball glass in his hand, leaned over the piano to speak with John, our 15-year-old pianist. “We like rock”, he deadpanned. John politely replied that we were a Dixieland band. The man leaned closer to John, nose-to-nose, and repeated “We…like…Rock” in a rather firm tone. John, visibly shaken (and possibly light-headed from the alcohol content of the man’s breath), said “Y-y-yes sir!”, and hastily conferred with Pete, our clarinetist, who called “Spinning Wheel”, the one Blood Sweat and Tears tune we happened to have in our books. The room went wild.
The man approached John again, stuffing two $10 bills in his shirt pocket, and slurred “that’s more like it”.
Quickly we huddled and agreed on a Chicago tune, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” which we had messed with in rehearsal. Again, the crowd began dancing and cheering. Remember, this was an unamplified Dixie band, with a Sousaphone (me) playing bass lines!
Realizing that we needed to quickly become a rock band, we agreed to try “Dih-Dih-Dit” a harmonized rock-beat ditty we made up and sang (but had never played on instruments) for fun while driving around (we were getting desperate by this time). We each took about three choruses of solos to stretch it out. Apparently this was a good decision, because everyone in the place started dancing and “woo-hooing”.
So for the next 2 1/2 hours, we played “Spinning Wheel”, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” and “Dih-Dih-Dit” over and over, and the owner kept passing the tip jar around to his employees.
We left the gig with over $450 and a new appreciation for thinking on one’s feet.


Tales from the trumpet section - chapter one

From Mike Evans:

Every seasoned musician will tell you that it doesn't take long before a touring musician begins to experience some, shall we say, "unique" experiences.  I plan to share, periodically, some of my "unique" experiences.

As a member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, we traveled constantly, and all over the world.  The travel exposed me to regions and cultures that I treasure.  But, every so often, I would become home sick and long for something that reminded me of home.

Early one morning, after spending several weeks touring Japan, I wanted pastry for breakfast. I told my room mate that I would return shortly and headed out to the din of early morning Japanese traffic.  I walked several blocks, hopelessly looking for breakfast food.  Fortunately, restaurants and shops had plastic displays of their menu offerings in a case outside of the front door.  Little white cards explained the name of the dish (in Japanese, so of no help to me) and its cost in yen (¥).  

After a bit I finally found a pastry shop, and in the display contained my favorite pastry, the creme filled bismark.  Well, the little plastic replica looked like it.  So, in I go and get four to go, two for me, and two for my room mate. Once arriving back at the hotel I entered my room exclaiming that I had pastries. We each grabbed a bismark from the bag, smiles and eagerly bit into the heavenly, creme filled delights.  After about one chew, we each looked at other with wide open eyes and spit out our delectable breakfast.  Much to our dismay,   They weren't filled with bavarian creme, but rather were stuffed with cold, English Peas.  ENGLISH PEAS! Yuck. Just proves that you can't judge a book by its cover, or a bismark either!

But, my Swedish pizza encounter was even more bizarre, but that is another tale.    


One time at band camp...

I always played low woodwinds. From 8th grade on I specialized in bass and contrabass clarinet. The theory was that I wasn't really good enough to ever challenge for first chair clarinet. Or fourth chair. But I was plenty good enough for bass clarinet, and later, contrabass clarinet. Then, after my sophomore year of high school, my band director approached me and said that he needed a baritone sax player in the fall in the stage band, and would I consider it? I had never played saxophone. We agreed that I would take the school bari home with me over the summer, and I taught myself to play it. And I got to be pretty good at it - I already had the lung capacity, and I learned pretty fast how to play in an excellent big band. After my junior year, I went (along with some of my band mates) to Sacramento to attend the Stan Kenton Jazz Orchestra in Residence week long camp. Essentially band camp for jazz nerds. It was quite the experience, an hour of theory each morning with one of the Kenton arrangers, then sectionals and rehearsals, a Kenton band concert each night, and a big concert to close out the week.

My band's sax sectionals were run by Roy Reynolds, then one of two bari players in the Kenton band. For a time in the early 70s the Kenton band had sax section with two bari saxes, which was unique in my knowledge. Roy was a grizzled old veteran who smoked like a 68 Buick, two or three packs a day. 

One day he and I got stuck in an elevator for a bit, and he took the opportunity to give me a pearl of wisdom. He said, "Kid, you play pretty well. You've got a good sound. What you need to do is this - always play louder than you think you should, until someone tells you to quiet down. The reason is that the low notes don't cut through as much and you need to play louder to balance the section and the rest of the band."

And anyone who has heard me play knows that I've very much taken that to heart.

Roy passed in 2010 - RIP.

Blog — VanPort Jazz

Welcome to VanPort Jazz! My name is Greg Cagle, and I play baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, and several other instruments. I'm also the webmaster here. I've been a member of the band since November 2015. Previously I spent ten years in Seattle playing in a number of big bands and wind ensembles. I have a day job with IBM as an IT infrastructure architect.

The intent of this blog is to allow band members to post about band-related topics, and to communicate with our ever growing fan base :). So this is the first entry, and I'll leave it at that for now.