Four spoken word poets and six composers take flight in new pieces for PJCE’s 12-piece jazz band. Performing together, the poets and musicians explore many facets of the human experience:

Can music resist the violence of society? Can we transcend the boundaries to togetherness? How do we reunite with our inner child? Where do we find solace for our sorrow?

Mojgani will perform with new works by Cyrus Nabipoor, Jessika Smith, and Noah Simpson. Other creative teams include Thick in the Throat Honey, the sound poetry performance duo of Arab American poet and essayist Claudia F. Saleeby Savage and multi-instrumentalist and composer John C. Savage; friends since childhood, musician Bryan Smith and writer Matt Spohn; and hip hop artist David Barber with third-generation musician, trombonist/composer James Powers.

On Friday, June 2nd, 2023, at The Old Church, PJCE and Oregon Poet Laureate Anis Mojgani team up to curate an evening of music and spoken word that sets the artists free to inspire, to rejuvenate, and to provoke reflection. The title of the show comes from an essay about jazz by Langston Hughes on jazz who said:

“Jazz is a great big sea. It washes up all kinds of fish and shells and spume and waves with a steady old beat, or off-beat. And Louis must be getting old if he thinks J. J. and Kai—and even Elvis—didn’t come out of the same sea he came out of, too…The sun pulls the moon. The moon pulls the sea. They also pull jazz and me. Beyond Kai to Count to Lonnie to Texas Red, beyond June to Sarah to Billy to Bessie to Ma Rainey. And the Most is the It—the all of it.”

*American Sign Language interpretation will be available at this performance.

Preformance program notes here.

About the artists:

Anis Mojgani is the current Poet Laureate of Oregon. A two-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam and winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam, Anis has done commissions for the Getty Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Oregon Parks Department, and the Portland Timbers. His work has appeared on HBO, National Public Radio, and in the pages of the NYTimes. Anis has been awarded residencies which include the Vermont Studio Center, the Bloedel Reserve, and GLEAN, in addition to a Poets Laureate Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets.The author of five books of poetry and the libretto for the opera Sanctuaries, his first children’s book is forthcoming from Holiday House/Neal Porter Books. Originally from New Orleans, Anis serves on the board of Literary Arts and currently lives in Portland Oregon, where he on occasion reads poems out the window of his studio.


Claudia F. Saleeby Savage is an Arab-American poet, essayist, and mama who manages disability with the aid of her community, family, and the wild beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Her work explores diaspora and dichotomy and has been featured in print, on stage, and in galleries throughout the country. She is a poet, essayist, interviewer, and the author of Bruising ContinentsThe Last One Eaten, and the collaboration The Hour of Anjali. Her book, metal used for beauty alone, is forthcoming in 2023. Her work lives on the page, but more often with her performance duo Thick In The Throat Honey (they were 2019 semi-finalists for a Creative Capital award on the Syrian refugee crisis). She is infinitely grateful for the support she has received from PJCE, RACC, The Black Earth Institute, Jentel, Ucross, Global Education Center in Nashville, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Oregon State University. Saleeby Savage has been on the boards of BOOM Arts and the Youth Council of Literary Arts. She works in the field of renewable energy and lives with her daughter and husband in Portland, OR.

Matt Spohn is a poet, essayist, and explorer based in Portland, OR.  He received his MFA in creative writing from Pacific University. Matt’s work has appeared in Alpinist, Climbing, Rock & Ice, and more. He is the recipient of a 2018 RACC grant and is the lead staff writer for Nike Sportswear. Matt has freed El Capitan, climbed on five continents, and established First Ascents throughout the US. He lives with his wife, Michelle, their son, Whitney, and their two climbing Chihuahuas, Zoozoo and Cashew. 

David Barber gained momentum in the Portland jazz scene through his collaborations as a hip hop artist with some of Portland’s most outstanding musicians. His expressive and nuanced vocal delivery evokes overtones of playfulness and pain, exploration and dissolution. His lyrical content is delicately drenched in imagery and reaches towards the avant garde.

Philosophically submitted to the mystery of our being, David’s artistic expression, whether through voice, instrument, or movement, is framed by whimsy and wonder.


Saxophonist, composer and educator Bryan Smith has been an active member of the jazz and improvised music scene in the Northwest. Having been a musician in both Seattle and Portland, Smith has been able to develop a unique and individualistic voice that is synonymous with West Coast jazz. Influenced by West Coast bebop with players such as Warne Marsh, Lee Konitz, and Lennie Tristano, mixed with the alternative rock of the 90’s that was popularized in the Northwest, Smith has found a way to incorporate history and regional identity in his music. Growing up in Portland, Smith was introduced to the saxophone and jazz music early on through Portland Public School music programs and eventually the Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra. Smith eventually landed in Flagstaff, Arizona on a full tuition scholarship to pursue music. It was during these four years Smith developed his proficiency in classical saxophone. As the winner of the 2006 Concerto Composition, he had the opportunity to perform as a soloist with the Northern Arizona University Symphony.

Currently residing in Portland, Oregon, Jessika Smith (Jessie Smith, formerly Jessika Leek) is a composer, saxophonist, and music educator. She is the director and coordinator of the Jessika Smith Big Band and the Eugene Composer’s Big Band, and she co-leads the Jessika Smith/Roger Woods Big Band. Jessika plays frequently in Oregon and Washington with assorted jazz groups, including Torrey Newhart’s Obsidian Animals and the Frank Irwin Quintet and she currently teaches music and band at Parkrose Middle School in Northeast Portland. The Jessika Smith Big Band’s debut album, “Tricks of Light”, was released with PJCE records on December 18, 2015.

James Powers is a Portland-based trombonist and composer. His’ playing and compositions can be heard on his record “Damnation of Memory” on PJCE records, which was placed in the “Best of Jazz on Bandcamp” newsletter. He also regularly performs with the Gordon Lee Quintet, the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE), March Fourth, Buddy Jay’s Jamaican Jazz Band, The Frank Irwin Quintet, and with Jet Black Pearl, amongst many other projects.

Energetic, dynamic, and attentive describe Noah Simpson’s modern approach to contemporary trumpet playing. Simpson is celebrated as a performer, and forward thinking improviser, working with artist like George Benson, Bernard Purdie, and Ron Artis II. As a composer he’s written for college programs at Willamette University and Lower Columbia College, as developed educational programs like “The American Refrain” for PDX Jazz.

Cyrus Nabipoor’s unmistakable voice on the trumpet rings with honesty, warmth and lyricism. Through his pairing of trumpet and electronics, Nabipoor bridges the conceived dichotomy of nature & technology, exploring new tonal possibilities. In his latest release, Nabipoor makes a powerful debut as a bandleader. Recorded live in New Orleans, the album showcases his compositional prowess, mastery of the horn and musical sensitivity. Cyrus primarily leads an original quintet and performs solo effect loop sets. He is part of the Homeroom Labs production team. He is a member/frequent collaborator of Noruz, Korgy & Bass, Reb & The Good News, and more. Cyrus co-produces ‘Lore’, a multisensory storytelling and performance series, with visual artist Ida Floreak.

Composer and woodwind performer John C. Savage, has been compared to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Herbie Mann, Noah Howard, Ian Anderson, and Colin Stetson. Savage has performed and recorded with, among others, Esperanza Spalding (for Bienestar Oregon), the Andrew Hill Big Band (A Beautiful Day), Billy Fox and Mark Dresser (The Uncle Wiggly Suite) and releases on PJCE Records (Black Heron and the SpoonbillEktaDemolition DuoFrom Maxville to Vanport, Senses Sharpened, and Nova Pangaea). The Re:Soundings Trio, a collaboration with pianist Dana Reason and oboist Catherine Lee, can be heard on NEA Jazz Master Roscoe Mitchell’s release, Distant Radio Transmission  performing his masterwork Nonaah (Wide Hive Records, 2020). Savage’s current collaborations include work with poet Claudia F. Saleeby Savage as Thick In The Throat Honey, and Lie Very Still, which performs Savage’s compositions influenced by classical composition, improvisation, rock music, and the climate crisis. He also performs with The Bundy Band, a twelve-piece group influenced by New Orleans Jazz, the American Songbook, folk, blues, and rock. Savage holds a Ph.D. from New York University with emphases in flute performance, improvisation, and music theory. He teaches music at Reed College.


Bryan Smith, alto, flute, clarinet; Mieke Bruggeman, bari, bass clarinet; Jessika Smith, soprano sax, clarinet, flute; John Savage, alto sax, flute, clarinet; Donnie Norton, tenor sax; Lars Campbell, trombone; James Powers, trombone;Cyrus Nabipoor, trumpet; Noah Simpson, trumpet; Shao Way Wu, bass; Jonas Oglesbee, drums; Ryan Meagher, guitar; Clay Giberson, piano.