New songs illuminating Oregon’s history.

“Maxville to Vanport” is new multi-media concert of songs and video for the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble featuring vocalist Marilyn Keller that tells the story of two little-known Oregon towns and the diverse residents that made them unique. With music by Ezra Weiss, text by Renee Mitchell, video by Kalimah Abioto created in a community-guided process, we hope to shed more light on parts of Oregon’s history that deserve wider recognition.

See upcoming events for this project here.

PJCE performing live with Kalimah Abioto’s short film “Water.”
Marilyn Keller singing PJCE’s “From Maxville to Vanport.”

Speaking with communities, not speaking for them.

By “community-guided,” we mean that that we are trying to create an artistic process that involves input from community members who care about these stories at the project’s earliest stages, not just at the end. The words we hear during our community input process will be incorporated into the finished piece along with historical sources, giving it layers of meaning to current and future Oregonians.

We’ll be holding “community input” events at the Oregon Historical Society in September 2017, and at the Josephy Center for the Arts in November, 2017. We look forward to hearing from the people who share a personal connection to these stories, or those who are simply interested to learn more about the project and our state’s colorful history. Both events will be documented for archival purposes, and presented after the project’s completion as a way to make the project available to those who weren’t able to experience the project as it happened, and for future Oregonians.

Performing and teaching across Oregon.

We’ll present this project in performances and workshops in Portland, Enterprise, La Grande, and Baker City in April, 2018. We’ll also record the music for commercial release on PJCE Records and produce a documentary telling the story of the project, and the stories that inspired it. See our upcoming events for more details.

Why Maxville and Vanport?

Maxville, built in 1923 in Wallowa County, and Vanport, built in 1942 just north of Portland, were multi-cultural communities built to house workforces with significant black and immigrant populations at a time when many Oregonians were openly hostile to these groups. When we designed this project, our aim was to make music about Oregon history that we felt was under-appreciated, and deserving of wider recognition.

Compared to the greater numbers of white Oregonians in Wallowa County and Portland at the times when these towns were operating, the number of people of color living in them was small. However, given Oregon’s history as the state with the highest per capita membership in the KKK at it’s peak in the 1920’s, the presence of these communities of color hold a place in our state’s history that is vital to recognize, understand, and celebrate.

The Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble wants to direct the energy and artistry or Oregon’s jazz community towards acknowledging the past, and celebrating a more just and more vibrant future. To learn more, read these articles from the Oregon Encyclopedia about Maxville and Vanport.

More about the Artistic Team

Renee Mitchell will write a narrative in prose and poetry, to be set to music by Ezra Weiss, rendered in a short film by Kalimah Abioto and sung by Marilyn Keller, with historian Gwendolyn Trice of Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center, who will advise the creative team.

Thanks to our partners.