November 12th: The Instigator

12 Nov

Portland State Music: 30 for the 30th

Name: Andrew Oliver

Instruments: piano, trumpet

Student of Charley Gray, Randy Porter, Darrell Grant

B.M. Jazz Studies, B.A. French 2007 Portland State University

Putting Music Forward

Every community needs an instigator: the person who starts the band, creates the non-profit, opens  the venue, and otherwise serves as a lightening rod for new ideas and projects.  Among the current generation of young Portland jazz musicians, Andrew Oliver fits that bill, bringing eclectic energy, initiative and a can-do spirit to Portland’s musical community.

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Putting Skills to Work

From 1920’s swing music, to indie-jazz, to West African music, to tango, to Balkan music and beyond, Andrew Oliver has a seemingly limitless musical curiosity. He leads six groups and plays in many more.  He had toured across the US and Canada, traveled to Africa, studied in New York, released seven albums as a leader or co-leader and received national grants, honors and awards for his performing and composing – all by the ripe young age of 27.  

Andrew grew up in Portland playing classical piano and cello before delving into the realm of improvised music while in high school.  He lived in New Orleans from 2002 until 2005, where he studied jazz at Loyola University.  After evacuating from Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005, he returned to Portland and resumed his studies at Portland State University.

His first group, the Andrew Oliver Sextet released 2 albums to critical acclaim in the Northwest (Otis Stomp on Diatic Records and 82% Chance of Rain on OA2) before disbanding in 2010.  In 2007 he traveled to Africa as part of the U.S. State Department’s “Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad” program.  On returning he founded The Kora Band, a Seattle-based group blending West African traditions and jazz, featuring Kane Mathis on the kora, a 21-string traditional harp from West Africa.  That group’s second album Cascades (OA2 Records) won “2010 NW Jazz Album of the Year” from Earshot Jazz and peaked at #12 on the U.S. World Music Radio Charts.  The Kora Band continues to tour the West Coast and in 2012 was one of 11 groups nationwide to be awarded the prestigious Jazz New Works Grant from Chamber Music America. The grant supports the composition, performance and recording of a new extended work by Andrew for the ensemble.

In 2007, Andrew started the Portland Jazz Composers’ Ensemble with fellow PSU alum Gus Slayton.  He is co-executive director for the group. which commissions and performs new works by local jazz composers for 14-piece ensemble and works to encourage the creation and dissemination of jazz and creative music in the region.  PJCE performed it’s first concert in 2008 and was granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2010. The group has performed thirteen concerts, including the Portland Jazz Festival and the Mount Hood Jazz Festival, premiering over 30 new compositions written expressly for the PJCE.

In 2009,while studying at the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Canada, Andrew co-founded the group Tunnel Six with five other musicians from the U.S. and Canada. Tunnel Six has since toured Canada and the U.S. three time, and released their debut album Lake Superior in 2011 on OA2 Records.  The title track, a composition of Andrew’s, received a 2010 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award.

An Oregon Arts Commission Fellowship and a Career Opportunity Grant in 2011 took Andrew to New York for studies with the jazz composer John Hollenbeck.  A commission by Portland’s FILMUSIK, an organization pairing new music with old films, resulted in his score for the 1966 Japanese film “Gamera vs. Barugon,” which was performed by his indie-jazz trio The Ocular Concern.

Andrew can also be found performing with New Orleans native Devin Phillips, and the raucous old-time/swing band The Bridgetown Sextet.

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Adding Something Unique

A long-standing interest in Balkan music led Andrew to play trumpet with the Krebsic Orkestar, a Balkan style brass band. He also  composes and performs with the Alex Krebs Tango Quartet, which creates new music for the thriving tango dancing scene in Portland.  His radio show “The Jazz Score” on Portland’s Jazz Station 89.1.KHMD takes listeners on a journey through the minds of the great composers of Jazz, exploring a different composer or theme each week.  Andrew also  serves as an adviser for the Portland Jazz Festival on new currents in jazz.

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What Has Your PSU Music Experience Meant to You?

“My time at PSU was extremely valuable in my development as a musician.  I formed many musical relationships which continue to this day in my various groups, and my interest in large-group composition was born from my experiences writing for the PSU big band.  Darrell and Charley were very influential in helping me develop skills as a bandleader and composer for small and large ensembles and lessons with Darrell and Randy Porter helped me solidify technical elements of my playing as well as beginning to develop a unique voice as an improviser.  In addition, the opportunity to travel abroad through the French program was a great period in my life and education.”


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