5 Can't-Miss Shows at the 2021 PDX Jazz Festival

The virtual festival runs February 18–27 and will feature livestreams from Portland to Brooklyn to Cuba.

By Gabriel Granillo and Conner Reed February 17, 2021

Image: Tokio Aoyama

In 2021, attending a performance festival is kind of like trying a new restaurant: lots of talk about how "we do things a little differently here." Most of the time, this roughly translates to, "Now, everything's online." 

That is the case for the 2021 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival, which will feature 20 virtual events (three documentaries, 17 livestreams) and run from February 18–27. The programmers are also taking real advantage of the digital format, though: in addition to performance streams from the Jack London Revue downtown, the itinerary includes live events in Seattle, Brooklyn, London, Johannesburg, and Havana.

This morning, Portland Monthly peeked at the festival schedule and got busy marking our calendars. Here are our can't-miss top picks.

Harold López-Nussa

8 p.m. Fri, February 19, $8–10

Some Americans might know López-Nussa from his 2018 Tiny Desk Concert, where he pounded the keys beside his brother Ruy and bassist Gastón Joya—he marries jazz technique to bright Cuban pop melodies, and his music feels ready-made for dancing in the streets. He'll perform cuts from his latest album Te Lo Dije (and more, presumably) live from Havana on Friday. If you want grab your phone, AirPods, and a jacket, nobody's saying you can't literally dance in the streets while you watch.

Judith Hill

8 p.m. Sat, February 20, $8–10

The 20 Feet from Stardom subject and former contestant on The Voice is gearing up to drop a new album, Baby, I'm Hollywood!, next month. The LA native, whose gale-force pipes have attracted the attention of everyone from Prince (who produced her debut album) to Michael Jackson (whom she was supposed to duet with on his This Is It tour before he died), will perform live from the Jack London Revue on Saturday. Expect soul-shaking vocals and eye-popping looks.

Brian Jackson

8 p.m. Weds, February 24, $5

Between 1971 and 1979, Brian Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron, the late prolific jazz poet and self-proclaimed “bluesologist,” co-composed and co-produced nine albums. Jackson, a keyboardist and flautist, and Scott-Heron developed a sound during their partnership that melded and honored everything from jazz, blues, soul, and funk to spoken-word poetry. That sound has gone on to influence contemporary R&B, soul, rap, and more, finding its way into songs like Common’s “The People” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Poe Man Dreams.” Live streamed from the Jack London Revue, Jackson will join forces with Allokoi Peete and PDX’s own Greaterkind for “The Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson Songbook.” Jackson will bring some of his and Scott-Heron’s best-known classics into context and break them down for a night of stories, anecdotes, and music.

Herb Alpert Is …

8 p.m. Thurs–Sat February 25–27, $10 for solo ticket (can also be bundled with tickets to two other music docs)

"Herb Alpert is butter," as Billy Bob Thorton says in the trailer for John Scheinfeld’s 2020 documentary Herb Alpert Is …, and we can’t think of a better way to describe the musician, painter, sculptor, and philanthropist. Scheinfeld’s keen eye for musical subjects (Chasing Trane: The John Contrane Documentary; The U.S. vs John Lennon) turns to Herb Alpert’s extraordinary life, in which he outsold The Beatles and co-founded A&M Records (now Polydor Ltd.) which housed names like Joe Cocker, Sting, Janet Jackson, Quincy Jones, Supertramp, Carole King, Joan Baez, and others. The virtual screening of the film—presented by the Hollywood Theatre—will feature a Q&A with Scheinfeld and author and jazz historian Ashley Kahn.

The Marcus Shelby Quartet

8 p.m. Fri, February 26, $5

Marcus Shelby

 With recordings and projects including “Port Chicago,” “Harriet Tubman,” “Soul of the Movement” “Beyond the Blues: Ending Mass Incarceration,” and more, Marcys Shelby’s work has largely focused on the lives of Black people through vocal and instrumental compositions. At the PDX Jazz Fest, the San Francisco-based bassist presents “Black Music and Freedom,” featuring Tiffany Austin, Darrell Grant, and Carlton Jackson. The performance highlights original and re-arranged compositions that celebrate how music has been used as a tool for Black liberation and freedom movements. From early blues and spirituals, to rhythm and blues and ring shouts, the music that emerges from within and around freedom movements continue to inspire change and unity.

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