Northeast Portland used to be a hot bed of jazz clubs back in the 1960’s. Audiences enjoyed a plethora of musicians as they came through Portland including some really big names such as Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk. Now, as we have all seen, the neighborhood has changed, the jazz clubs are gone, and there are varying opinions about the motivations and impact that gentrification has had. However, there is movement afoot to bring jazz back to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
A new commercial development, Alberta Commons, is being constructed at MLK and Alberta which will house Natural Grocers as the anchor tenant as well as additional commercial space. The project’s prime contractor is Colas Construction, an African American family-owned company, and they hope to have at least 50 percent minority business participation. This includes many minority sub-contractors working on the development. The new development will dedicate 50 percent of the commercial space to be leased at affordable rates to minority owned businesses which will drastically increase the number of businesses on MLK owned by people of color.
One of the minority owned businesses hoping to be located at Alberta Commons is Afrodaddy’s Jazz Club. The owner, Carmen Blanchard, shared her thoughts about Portland, minority owned businesses, the impact millennials can have on our city and, more near and dear to her heart, Jazz music and the importance it plays in bringing a community together once again.
Blanchard came to Portland from the San Francisco Bay area in 1989. She fell in love with the Pacific Northwest, the city of Portland and the people here. She and her husband have three sons that were born and raised in Portland. “That millennial generation – they don’t see age, they don’t see race…,’ says Blanchard. She credits the Portland Public Schools for stressing the arts and diversity and inclusiveness which helped to make her sons the caring and talented men they are today.
Thanks to Portland Development Commission (PDC), recently renamed Prosper Portland, Blanchard has been given the opportunity as a woman of color to start her own business and her love of Jazz has fueled the entrepreneurial fire within her. The PDC, with the help of project managers Tory Campbell and Kim Moreland, and architect Anne Fische of ARF Architecture were instrumental in helping Blanchard work through the planning of her business and the applications, permits, and details needed to be completed to be considered for one of the commercial spaces at Alberta Commons. “PDC is really doing a big outreach. You don’t have to come to the table with proof of concept. They will guide you. They are willing to sit with you and plan and work through the process,” says Blanchard. Her appreciation is so sincere and she couldn’t say enough about the assistance she received from the PDC employees. Fische of ARF Architecture has been mentoring her through the process. “It’s so much bigger than ourselves. Giving me an opportunity as a woman of color to use community assets to be a social entrepreneur has been an unbelievable gift,” says Blanchard.
“Also, the jazz community has been so supportive of bringing jazz back to North/Northeast Portland. There’s a lot of young talent out there. They don’t get enough opportunities so they are a little stifled creatively. They need to just get out there and do it. There’s no wrong note on the Afrodaddy stage, “says Blanchard.
Afrodaddy’s Jazz Club is currently asking for musicians and bands to sign up to be the inaugural line up at the venue. Jazz, soul, R&B, funk and hip hop groups are welcome to request a booking via the Afrodaddy’s website. The club hopes to bring together audiences who are fans of a specific genre, say jazz, and also people who may not have heard much jazz before and create some new fans thus bringing the community together.
“There’s different ways to share our voice. We have to work individually – meeting one on one to share our thoughts and ideas but we can also share the culture of jazz and music and come together as a city, as a neighborhood, as residents that all want the same thing – to enjoy our city, the talent it has to offer and the opportunity that it can provide to everyone not just a few,” says Blanchard. She wants to stress that she feels it is in the hands of the millennials – her three sons who will run the Afrodaddy’s business and also the community’s millennials who she thinks have the best chance to help the rest of us see the world in a more open and accepting way using jazz to bridge the gap and orchestrate the change.
For more information:
Afrodaddy’s Jazz Club