On The Road With NPR Music: Matt Fleeger At KMHD, Portland, Oregon

Beyond travel, we’re also big music fans here at Gadling, largely because music is a great way to get to know a place. This month happens to be Public Radio Music Month and we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.

Portland, Oregon might be known for its indie scene, but as Matt Fleeger shows us, it’s also home to a burgeoning jazz scene. As Fleeger points out, when most people think of jazz, they think of a scene that ended in the late 60s. On the contrary, it’s a genre that’s alive and well, full of fusion acts and creative ensembles. Check out Fleeger’s playlist for a good feel of what this city has to offer.

Name: Matt Fleeger

Member station: KMHD Jazz Radio

Regular Show/Contribution Beat: Program Director/Host of “New Jazz For Lunch” M-Thurs 12 (noon) to 1 PM, M-Thurs.

When people think of music in Portland, what do they think of?

A DIY, underground approach to music, independent music. In terms of Jazz, highly creative ensembles and players – people who aren’t afraid to think outside the box a bit.

How do you help curate that musical scene?

At KMHD, we try to “hold up” the really creative, interesting, different sounds that are coming out of our city. We partner with the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, which is an organization is concerned with fostering new Jazz compositions and releases a different CD featuring a Portland band each month. We bring local musicians into the studio every Friday afternoon for live performances direct to air, and we film local bands playing in various spaces throughout the city. My show in particular features all new releases in an attempt to expose our audience to new sounds. Often times, the Jazz audience gets caught up in the thinking that Jazz ended in 1969, but there are many very interesting sounds and directions happening within the scene today.

How has the Portland jazz scene evolved over the last few decades?

Portland has always had a certain forward-thinking aesthetic when it comes to music, but on the other hand there’s a very laid-back sensibility at work here, too. The Jazz scene has changed a lot over the past few decades, but it’s always been inventive. In the 70’s – Portland (and Eugene, to the south) gave birth to a sort of world-jazz fusion through bands like Oregon, or saxophonist Jim Pepper. Music education factors heavily into the equation as well, whether it’s from Thara Memory (Esperanza Spalding’s mentor) or Portland State University’s Darrell Grant, who is a world-renowned Jazz musician in his own right.

What would you say is the most unique thing about your music scene?

Really it’s the people. And by people, I mean the audience, the people who consume the music. Portland is very (VERY) supportive of its homegrown talent. For example, during the Portland Jazz Festival at least two of the 12 headlining shows are always local acts, and these shows always sell out before the national or international acts that are visiting. That’s something you don’t find in most cities.

What are three new up and coming bands on the Portland scene right now and what makes them distinct?

Nowadays, it’s bands like the Blue Cranes or Grammies that are fusing the improvisational ideas of this music with other bands or genres that influenced them (think Fugazi or tUnE yArDs).

For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?

“Everything is Going to Be Okay” – Blue Cranes
“Echolalia” – Kin Trio
“Strong Fire” – Andrew Oliver Sextet
“XSABCESS” – Grammies
“Give Thanks” – Darren Klein
“Rainy Day, Sunny Heart” – Gunga Galunga
“Blossom Bell” – 1939 Ensemble

Listen to the complete playlist on Spotify.