Cathedral Park Jazz Festival Artist Feature: Michelle Medler of the Quadraphonnes

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Today's installment of Better Know a CPJF Artist, Michelle Medler of the Quadraphonnes.

JazzScene: What is your main instrument, or role in your group?

Michelle Medler: I play Tenor Sax in the group, as well as contributing vocals, composing, arranging, doing graphic design work as needed, building the website, being 1 of 4 co-leaders of the band, sharing the roles of booking the band etc...

JazzScene: Can you describe your set for those that may not know a lot about jazz or blues music?

MM: The Quadraphonnes are passionate about the saxophone, its characteristics, and possibilities. We are adventurous! We strong, talented, ladies break the boundaries of the saxophone quartet with our mighty chops, tantalizing grooves, soaring solos and dynamic vocals. Covering a variety of musical styles from jazz-funk-pop, to avant-garde, gypsy-punk and classical, the Quads put on a great show!  For Cathedral park, we will be playing a straight-ahead Jazz set that focuses on the classics with maybe one or two original songs. There may be a vocal tune included, but this show will be saxophone intensive.

JazzScene: Can you describe you set for those that do know a lot about jazz and blues music?

MM: The Quads will be taking a journey through some music from the Duke Ellington band, with some interesting twists. There’ll be a bit of Monk & some Diz. We might take you down to Georgia or to a tropical island! Some of the tunes are in-house arrangements/adaptations for sax quartet, Others are published adaptations of famous songs. There may be an original or two thrown in, but for this year’s Cathedral Park show, we decided to celebrate our classic jazz side.

JazzScene: What inspires you to perform, or compose?

MM: When I think about what inspires me about performing & composing, a pie chart comes to mind. There are different aspects of me as a whole musician. I can’t just focus on one aspect (or one piece of pie) without finding some tedium. So I rotate from, serious deep practice time, to composing time, to the thrill of performing, to teaching, to focusing on my secondary instruments, to arranging etc.

Performing is an amazing thing. The chance to challenge yourself on so many levels (whether it’s with new or difficult music or the many aspects of a show, such as stage presence) while being part of a team effort (usually more like a family), is addictive.

Learning other instruments has given me a wider perspective of the picture of music & a deeper perspective of the saxophone. Playing flute, clarinet & singing are nearly as important to me as the sax (and I do tend to gravitate towards tenor sax, but love playing soprano, alto, and bari, too). I also dabble with piano and drums (you might catch me playing those with a student band), but they are mostly composition tools.

Composing music is not unlike writing. You could write a creative story, a novel, a technical manual, or a report about something. When I sit down to compose, it’s because a spark came to me or because I have goals to write for a certain group/situation. I am often inspired by emotions, current events in the world or in my life or something around me.

Deep practice is great for discipline and for having some alone time. This past year, I have pushed myself with my jazz quartet by setting up a show in Boston with my husband, Ben Medler and Boston based, world-class players, Yoron Israel and Rick Peckham playing my original music. Then recorded a new album in June with my PDX players Edwin Coleman, Dan Gildea, and Ben Medler (to be released soon). In between those sessions, The Quadraphonnes worked up a difficult set of music by Claude Debussy to be performed at Marche Moderne. At the same show, I performed on flute, an original composition by local composer, Linda Woody that was in the style of Debussy for flute, viola, and harp. 

JazzScene: How did you end up becoming a professional musician?

MM: I was drawn to the saxophone around 3rd grade, as there was always music playing in my house (mostly radio). By 5th grade, after seeing some live bands (with saxophone players) and getting to meet the musicians, I was hooked and decided that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up! The passion for music has never waned. I knew it would take a lot of hard work and practice so I went to music camps, took lessons, was involved in both choir and band in school and worked my way through college at PSU. All of this was while I was simultaneously co-teaching the bands at Wilson High school. In 2001, I graduated PSU and started the Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra which is still going strong today. There is a saying that if you can’t play, teach. I say teaching is a two-way street! I have learned fantastic things from my students and I love giving back. I wouldn’t be playing music on this level, without the help from all of my teachers and camps and scholarships.

JazzScene: Past or present, where have been some of your favorite places to perform in Portland?

MM: I will start with Cathedral Park Jazz Festival. It was a favorite to attend as a kid, and has been a favorite to perform at! The energy from a jazz loving crowd is warm and dynamic. I miss Jimmy Maks tremendously, and always loved to play there. The Waterfront Blues festival is amazing! Festivals, in general, are great! Being outside with a big crowd can be somewhat surreal and always memorable! 

JazzScene: Who are some Portland musicians that were a big influence on you as an artist?

MM: Gary Harris was my teacher growing up. I LOVED that he played all styles of music. I got to see him perform with Obo Addy (who I would also put on that list), with his PDX sax quartet, in small group jazz settings, and in bands like Soul Vaccination. He also turned me into a music theory nerd! Leroy Vinnegar was at the jam sessions when I was a kid and would sometimes play a blues with us! I will NEVER forget standing in front of his world-class bass sound. Not in Portland, but in Salem for the last part of his life was bassist, Red Mitchell. I took a 3-4 hour lesson with him (and 2 other students, none of us were bass players). It was life changing! (He passed 1 month later due to his bad heart). Mel Brown and his cronies were a huge inspiration. I attended, what was then, the Mt Hood Festival of Jazz Workshop, for many years and learned so much more about jazz than I ever could have at school. Bill Hagen and friends let me play in blues jams starting around age 14. Darrell Grant and Charley Gray were a huge part of my college years as well as saxophonist Rob Scheps. Rob shared world-class saxophone and flute pedagogy with me. I also traveled to Seattle to study with Don Lanphere once a month for a couple of years and was influenced by the faculty of the Bud Shank Jazz Workshop in Port Townsend, WA (attending for 10 years). My husband, Ben Medler is a huge inspiration and supporter of my music. I know I am leaving important people out here, but this could go on way too long!

JazzScene: If you could wave a magic wand, is there anything about the Portland music scene that you might change?

MM: More places to play that can support musicians. It’s expensive to run a club and pay bands every night. The dreamers who try to start clubs FOR the musicians, always seem to run into catastrophic financial difficulties. It also seems that people don’t go out to see music as much as they used to. I would wave the magic wand and turn off their streaming movie services so they would get out more!

JazzScene: If you had to pick one moment or professional accomplishment for which you are most proud, what would it be?

MM: This is a difficult question. I will say, that I’m proud to have been able to support myself as a musician and music educator since quitting a job at a bank in the mid-1990’s. There have been many things along the way that are wonderful or that I could use to brag, but I feel lucky to do what I love and to pass it along to the next generation.

JazzScene: If you could only listen to three albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?

MM: Only 3? hmmm this is extra hard. OK, this day, I will say:
Groove Collective - We the People
John Coltrane - The Greatest Years collection
Louis Armstrong (circa 1920’s or 30’s)
But if you ask me tomorrow, I might vary my answer! 

Don't miss The Quadraphonnes at 7 pm on Saturday, July 21st at the 38th Annual Cathedral Park Jazz Festival.

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