A radio documentary and music project for Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble. Oregon Stories was funded by a Creative Heights grant from the Oregon Community Foundation in 2016.

Project Components

  • Commissions for new music and interview-based radio stories
  • Studio recording and album release
  • Touring across Oregon

Douglas Detrick’s role in the project

I worked on this project as the Executive Director of Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble. I was inspired by radio documentary like the kind I had heard on public radio and podcasts, like This American Life. As I was trying to dream up a project, I spent time on the Oregon Encyclopedia looking for stories from Oregon’s history that sparked my interest and would benefit our community by being better known.

I reached out to Captain Deborah Dempsey, Linda Tamura, and Leslie Unthank, who all graciously agreed to share their stories with our team. KMHD Jazz Radio producer Jessica Rand agreed to conduct the oral history interviews and to edit stories from them. Composers Darrell Grant, Mark Orton and myself all were excited to set these stories to music. And we planned a tour to perform the music in the communities around Oregon to which each story was tied—Astoria, Hood River, and Portland. It was important to PJCE’s 12-member ensemble to the places that played vital roles in the stories.

Fortunately, that combination of elements were compelling to the grant panel. The proposal was funded by a $19,000 grant from Oregon Community Foundation, as well as subsequent support from the Regional Arts and Culture Council and the Oregon Historical Society.

Hear the Music

About the Project

Oregon Stories shares the stories of DeNorval Unthank, a Portland African American physician and civil rights leader who struggled to safely house his family in Portland, as told by his daughter Lesley Unthank; George Akiyama, a Hood River resident who was threatened with violence when he returned from serving in World War II, as told by historian Linda Tamura; and Deborah Dempsey, the first woman river pilot to guide ocean-going vessels over the Columbia River Bar, who tells her own story.

Jessica Rand, KMHD Jazz Radio host, produced three audio stories using interviews with the storytellers. Three jazz composers scored the stories with original music—Mark Orton, a renowned film composer and guitarist; Darrell Grant, celebrated pianist and Professor of Music at Portland State University; and PJCE Executive Director Douglas Detrick, an award-winning composer and trumpeter. The program was performed in front of live audiences in April 2016 in Hood River, Astoria, and Portland.

The Oregon Stories project makes a powerful statement: jazz is an inclusive art form that can tell the stories of many communities, not just the stories of the urban experience so often associated with the music. Further, the project allowed the PJCE to reach across conventional boundaries and participate in one of the most important conversations of our time—equality.

The Oregon Stories project was funded in part by the Fred W. Fields Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation’s Creative Heights grant program and by the Regional Arts and Culture Council’s 2015 Project grant program. The project received additional support from the Oregon Historical Society and Bournstein’s Seafood.