The African/Creole raw rhythms of New Orleans that blended into the indigenous art form known as JAZZ first came to Portland originally in the form of Ragtime during the 1890’s and then later a mixture of Rhythm Blues with Orchestra Swing was added during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
The Golden West Hotel, the Monogram Saloon, and the Arcadia Saloon were a few of several clubs where people gathered to hear the amalgam of Rag, Blues, and Swing Jazz. Other places in Portland where these syncopated bars and chords could be heard were private parties, radio broadcasts, or at local record stores.
The Golden West Hotel was particularly popular to the small African American community who resided in downtown Portland since the 1850’s. By the 1920’s, the growing African American community had already begun migrating across the river over to the neighborhood known as “Albina,” a town of immigrant families made up of Scandinavians, Irish, Polish, Germans, Russians, Mediterranean, Asians, and from the Balkans.
Starting in the 1940’s, Portland began experiencing a great migration of people moving here for employment opportunities, particularly at the shipyards due to the outbreak of World War II. The majority of these citizens settled in Vanport City, but others moved to Albina. With the influx of these new Portlanders, Jazz music clubs became established in Albina along or near Williams Avenue between Weidler and Cherry Street: ACME, Savoy, Frat Hall, and others. Soon a new evolving style of Jazz could be heard in Albina: “Jump” and Bebop. Albina’s Jazz clubs gained huge success, attracting such Jazz greats as Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Eckstein, and several other musicians and celebrities. After a performance, some of these artists spent the night at neighbor homes in Albina (Blacks were barred from staying in Portland hotels, even famous Black entertainers).
Then came urban renewal.
Between 1957-1972, close to 2000 people lost their homes, their businesses, and their Albina neighborhood, due to construction of the I-5 Freeway, Memorial Coliseum, and expansion plans of Emanuel Hospital. Historic Jazz Clubs were also torn down in the bulldozer’s path. A few other clubs survived into the 1990’s, before they too closed due to socio-economic reasons.
Today, the Albina Neighborhood District continues to live on and evolve, just like the Jazz music it helped give birth to, as some of Albina’s older members still recall and remember.
Whether you live in Albina or had to move away, yet took with you that vibrant spirit of Albina to kindle a new community somewhere else, may all of you always remember and never forget that Albina is HOME, and where your ancestral roots lie.
It is our wish that the ALBINA JAZZ FESTIVAL serves to help keep Jazz music in Portland alive, contribute to the history of Jazz in the Albina community, and to promote and preserve the historical roots of the Jazz scene that existed on Williams Avenue during the 1940’s-1960’s.
Former Albina Jazz Spots:
McClendon’s Rhythm Room
Sweet Baby James Benton’s home
House of Sound
Cleo-Lillian Social Club
Albina Arts Center
Albina Jazz Festival. All Rights Reserved.