|Jimmy Mak's Portland, Oregon|
Last week I got a chance to visit my son and his lovely wife in their adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon. Besides the obvious joy of seeing them in their own environment, it gave me an opportunity to visit yet another jazz club. Jimmy Mak’s is purportedly listed by Downbeat magazine as "One of the world's top 100 places to hear jazz." With the club’s credentials clearly established, I wanted to experience this Pacific Coast bastion of fine jazz for myself. After reviewing the club’s schedule and wanting to bring the kids to something that they could more easily relate to, we settled on the Thursday night show.
Miss Martha Reeves is by all accounts the original queen of the Motown sound, a sound made famous by Motown’s savvy founder BerryGordy. It was the early sixties and young blues and jazz singer Martha Lavaille and her group the Del Phis cut their first record, a rather forgettable song “I’ll Have to Let Him Go”. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were born. Her first hit was “Come and Get These Memories” and soon the group was producing a chain of memorable hits that defined a generation of young promise. We all can remember her most famous songs “Heat Wave”, “Nowhere to Run”, “Jimmy Mack” , “I’m Ready for Love” and “Dancing in the Streets”. These songs span generations, as later artists including, Phil Collins, Linda Ronstadt, Van Halen, Mick Jagger and David Bowie have all paid homage by recording these very same songs to a whole new era of younger listeners.
|Miss Martha Reeves|
We made our way to the Pearl district of Portland, a rehabbed factory district that has created a renaissance with the influx of fine restaurants, coffee shops, brew pubs and music venues like Jimmy Mak’s. On this Thursday night the club featured two shows and the early show was completely sold out. We came back for the second show and were able to get good seats in this well-appointed club. Jimmy Mak’s offers reserved seating and general admission. The twenty dollar cover charge was reasonable and the seating was comfortable with good views of the spacious stage from almost every vantage. We had eaten elsewhere while waiting for the start of the second set, so we didn’t get a chance to sample the food but I did have the opportunity of enjoying a generous glass of single malt Talisker which was moderately priced.
Jimmy Mak’s has a long standing relationship with drummer and Portland native Mel Brown. It is his residency at the club that seems to be a drawing card for traveling musicians to play the Jimmy Mak stage. Mr. Brown is a veteran of the Motown sound having played with Diana Ross and the Supremes as well as Miss Reeves in the heyday of Motown music’s popularity. He has also played with jazz mainstays like bassist LeRoy Vinnegar. Mr. Brown is the magnet that draws the talent from the Portland musical scene. On this night the dapper and affable Mr. Brown assembled a ten piece band to play back-up to Miss Reeves.
|Drummer Mel Brown|
Miss Reeves was decked out in a shimmering gown and strut herself from the start to the finish of her demanding power driven set. She is the consummate performer and despite her age, she recently turned seventy, she has full vocal power and most of her range. The set started off with “So Many Memories”
and the crowd, a pleasant mix of older and younger patrons, responded to her energy immediately. On the classic “Nowhere to Run” the band offered her almost symphonic support as the horn section played their synchronous parts with gusto and Mr. Brown and his rhythm section pushed the song along. It’s almost impossible not to sing along to this iconic tune and as I panned the audience many where up clapping and singing. She continued the set with “Love Makes Me Do Foolish Things” where she demonstrated she can still summon her falsetto to the highest of peaks. She took a break from the mainstays of her repertoire to do a medley of songs based on a bossa rhythm. The medley included pieces of the Jobim song “The Girl from Ipanema” , the Tony Hatch song made famous by Petula Clark “Call Me” and the Burt Bacharach classic “The Look of Love”.
|Martha Reeves with Mel Brown and band|
Perhaps her most stirring ballad of the evening was a blues that she dedicated to her father, who she recalled was a sewer pipe layer. The song “Watch Your Back” offered a nice exchange between guitarist Dan Balmer and Miss Reeves, whose delivery was amazingly strong and soulful.
The classic “Heat Wave” had the entire audience on their feet. It was interesting to watch a beaming Mr. Brown as he was obviously enjoying himself, recollecting his history on this very song with Miss Reeves. Miss Reeves did a tribute to Billie Holiday singing “God Bless the Child” and then she finished the set with a rousing rendition of the Motown anthem “Dancing in the Streets". The song featured some fine solos by trombonist Stan Bock, saxophonist Renato Caranto and an organ solo from local keyboardist Louis Pain.
The evening was a resounding success. My son, his wife and clearly everyone in the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Jimmy Mak’s is a Portland treasure and deserving of its status as one of the 100 top places to see jazz . Miss Reeves is one of those ageless performers whose music seems to transcend generations. The feel good sustenance the music delivers is a direct result of the joy that she and her fellow musicians radiate while playing it.
Musicians: Martha Reeves, vocals; Al McKinney piano and musical director; Mel Brown, drums; Dan Balmer guitar; Stan Bock, trombone; Renato Caranto, saxophone; Derrick Sims, trumpet; Louis Pain, keyboards; Curtis Craft, percussion; electric bass and. baritone sax (players unknown).