The Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE) has increased its creative output and influence in recent years with a focused artistic vision and involvement in the community. The PJCE has teamed up with the Oregon Historical Society, Portland State University, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Montavilla Jazz Festival, Creative Music Guild, and the Oregon Community Foundation, just to name a few. This focused ethos spawned last year’s outreach into the vaunted youth jazz movement.

This year, the PJCE’s Grasshoppers program returns with even more energy.

The student composers, or “grasshoppers,”  involved in this ambitious project come from two Portland metro area high schools, and from Portland Community College. With their professional mentors— PSU Jazz professor emeritus Charley Gray, Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra Co-Director Michelle Medler, and Metropolitan Youth Symphony Jazz Director Ryan Meagher—each student will compose a new piece for the PJCE’s 12-member jazz ensemble. All of these students have composed before, but not for a large professional ensemble, and the opportunity to do so represents a unique and monumental education opportunity. All of them participate free of charge.

In addition to one-on-one instruction with their mentors, mentees will attend workshops to build specific skills for composing for jazz instruments in the brass, woodwind and rhythm section families. All workshops are free and open to the public. Details for these events are listed below.

About the mentors:

Charley Gray was the director of the Portland State University jazz program for decades where he lead the jazz ensemble and taught composition and arranging techniques to several outstanding students, some of whom went on to found the PJCE. The mark Gray has left on the Portland jazz scene is indelible and the PJCE is proud to have him involved with its program to help develop the scene for new, exciting music.

The Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra (PYJO) has been one of the many vibrant organizations in Portland that has contributed to the abundance of strong, young players that the Rose City seems to churn out at will. It was founded in 2001 by Ben and Michelle Medler. Since its inception those two have shepherded in a number of musicians that have developed into unique voices that are heard far beyond our city limits. Michelle Medler directed the PYJO at last year’s Grasshoppers concert. This year she is mentoring one of her students from PYJO who is now composing in his college music program.

Another active participant in the fertile Portland jazz education landscape is guitarist, Ryan Meagher. He has been working diligently to nurture the next generation of Portland jazz musicians through his work with the PJCE, the Metropolitan Youth Symphony’s jazz program, PSU’s summer jazz workshop, and teaching jazz at both Mt. Hood Community College and Portland Community College. He and his grasshopper are exploring the idea of incorporating non-jazz influences like hip-hop and neo-soul into their pieces.

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