PORTLAND, Ore. (The Tribune) — Freda Payne laughs when asked about her No. 1 1970 hit “Band of Gold.”
“People love to hear that song,” she says with a chuckle. “I will do ‘Band of Gold’ to satisfy the band of golders!”However, as serious music fans know, Payne is far from a one-hit wonder — she’s a tremendously gifted singer whose jazz singing holds its own when compared to any of the greats, including Ella Fitzgerald — an “icon” to Payne, who has portrayed her on stage. In particular, Payne has mastered the art of scatting and makes it sound effortless.“With scatting, you have to have the ear for it, the musicality and the imagination,” she says. “It’s like dancing around the notes, you’re dancing around the melody. It’s almost like being a great basketball player, you have to take chances.”Payne is one of several artists who will appear at the Portland Jazz Festival, which kicks off Tuesday, Feb. 17, and runs through Sunday, March 1. Designed to coincide with Black History Month, the festival features performances all over town, as well as workshops, the schedules of which can be found at portlandjazzfestival.org.Performers include Stanley Jordan, Eddie Parente, Ron Steen, Vijay Ijer, Greta Matassa, Shelly Rudolf Wildbird, Karla Harris & Mark Simon, the Tony Pacini Trio, Ron Carter & Benny Green Trio, the Devin Phillips Quartet, Ben Darwish, Bleu Phonk, Trio Subtonic, Tahirah Memory & Jarrod Lawson and Lucky Peterson.
Payne will be backed by The Mel Brown Quintet in 7 and 9:30 p.m. shows titled “My Town is Motown” Thursday, Feb. 19, at Jimmy Mak’s, 221 N.W. 10th Ave. She also will participate in a free “Jazz Conversation” at noon, Friday, Feb. 20, at Lincoln Hall in Portland State University.An actress and prolific recording artist, who’s been taking stages since the mid 1950s, Payne is here to promote her latest 14-song album, “Come Back to Me Love.” She put the record together with the help of pianist/arranger/producer Bill Cunliffe.“He is a fantastic jazz player,” she says. “He respects my opinion, and he will listen to my ideas and execute them.”Payne has worked with all kinds of musicians and producers, including, of course, Motown’s Berry Gordy.“He would make you rehearse and rehearse till you couldn’t rehearse anymore,” she says with a laugh. “He didn’t get to where he was for nothing.”Among her personal fave cuts on “Come Back to Me Love” is “The Island,” composed by Brazil’s Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins, with English lyrics by husband-and wife-team Alan and Marilyn Bergman.“It just sends me to another place,” she says of the Latin-tinged romantic ballad. “It literally just transported me to another place musically and otherwise. It’s like you’re with someone you really have a chemistry with.”Other performersAmong the shows to check out in the festival’s first few days:Feb. 17: St. Paul and The Broken Bones, Sean Rowe, 8 p.m. Roseland Theater, 8 N.W. Sixth Ave.The Bones are a seven-piece band from Alabama that traffics in classic soul and gospel and has become known for their rollicking shows.Feb. 18: Bebel Gilberto, Somi, 7 p.m. Newmark Theater, 1111 S.W. Broadway St.Gilberto is a Grammy nominated vocalist who combines various Brazilian musical styles with touches of electronica. Meanwhile, Somi is a much acclaimed East African vocalist and songwriter mentored by Hugh Masekela, and she knits together jazz and African music, which you can hear on her latest album “The Lagos Music Salon.” The record debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. jazz charts.Feb. 20: The Bill Charlap Trio Swings Sinatra: “In The Wee Small Hours.” 10 p.m. Winningstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway St.This show features Charlap on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums. Charlap has backed Tony Bennett, Phil Woods, Benny Carter and Wynton Marsalis and served as the musical director for the Blue Note 7, a super group septet, and is in his 11th year as artistic director for Jazz in July Festival at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. His trio instrumentally celebrates Ole Blue Eyes’ 1950s catalog.