Spooky Jazz

Dear Liza,

Auntie Bridgett looking Creeeepy

Portland is getting ready for Halloween! Houses are getting decorated, shops are selling costumes, and entertainment is taking on a decidedly eerie feel.

Last Friday, we all went down to the Clinton Street Theater, a movie house built in 1915 at SE Clinton and 26th, for a “Ghostly Gala” put on by the Ne Plus Ultra Jass Orchestra.

Before we even got into the show, we knew it was going to be fun. We had dressed up, and others had, as well. The poster was old-timey spooky and looked like someone with a sense of humor had designed it.

A Fellow Costume wearer

The Ne Plus Ultra Jass Orchestra is a band of ten, plus a visiting violinist. There was a drummer, pianist, banjo, three reed players, a coronet, trumpet, and trombone. This group, with band leader Samuel Murray Hawkins, brought the creepy popular music from the early twentieth century to life. Hawkins was dressed as Gomez Addams, and brought that sense of style and irony to the whole show.

Some of the tunes were very old, such as “At the Devil’s Ball”, an early Irving Berlin tune from 1913, and “Spooky Spooks” from 1916.  But a common musical motif in the tunes was even older. Chopin’s “Funeral March”, written in 1839, has that ominous phrase that all cartoons play when Death enters the picture.

Band Leader Samuel Murray Hawkins, with the Phantom of the Opera on piano

The show also featured dancers of the Washington Dance Collective, two young people who moved to the bouncy music while dressed as Pugsley and Wednesday Addams. During the evening there was a costume contest, where Grandpa Nelson, as Napoleon, stood between a flapper and Ra, the God of Egypt. Ra won, maybe because he was a tiny cute boy, and maybe because no one wants to irritate an ancient God.

The last song of the evening was one of Auntie Bridgett’s favorites, “Mysterious Mose”, so we left on a high note, caught a Lyft car home, and fell into bed. I wonder if I have energy for two and a half more weeks of pre-Halloween activities!


Grandma Judy

Castletown at McMenamin’s

Dear Liza,

Last night we went back to the McMenamin’s Kennedy School. The weather was really stormy, so we took a Lyft car.

JD Kennedy portrait mcmenamins.jpg
Portrait of John D. Kennedy, founder of the school

We ate in The Boiler Room, which is decorated with wonderfully steampunk-y pipes and things, as well as having odd and interesting paintings on the walls. Auntie Bridgett and I shared an Aztec Salad of lettuce, corn, beans and spicy tortilla chips and Grandpa Nelson had his french fries.

Photo of kids and their birdhouses







We noticed several themes in the photos and paintings…they echo each other. In one wing of the school, there is a large photo of some kids holding birdhouses they had made. In a different corridor, there is a painting based on that photo. I love discovering this place, bit by bit!

kids birdhouses painting.jpg
Painting based on photo!

Another interesting thing we learned was that this school, The Kennedy School in Northeast Portland, was where Mike and Brian, the McMenamin brothers, went to elementary school. So they saved their own school!

We were at the school to listen to an Irish music group called Katie Jane and Castletown which was playing in the Gymnasium. The room is small for a gym, but is a nice open space with a rug in the middle for echo-control and so tables and chairs don’t damage the wooden floor. In front of the stage, however, the floor was left bare as an informal dance floor.

Katie Jane and Castletown mcmenamins.jpg
Katie Jane and Roger with dancer

The group is made up of three people: Drew is the pony-tailed drummer, Roger plays guitar and sings the low bits, and lovely Katie Jane, on violin, is the star. Her Irish fiddle playing soars and makes everyone want to dance! The audience was very mixed, but there were about 6 families with small kids who got up and did just that when the music started.

grandma dancing irish mcmenamins.jpg
Doing a turn with Grandma

I enjoyed this part the most, I think… kids just having fun with the music, helping smaller ones, and even doing a crazy turn with their grandma. Castletown played Irish tunes, some American Gospel, and even some Rockabilly, but all were dance-able, some sing-able, and all very, very entertaining.

When the band stopped at 9, we tipped them and told them how much we enjoyed the show, and headed off. Our Lyft driver picked us up before we even had time to get wet, and we were home and safe by 9:30.


Grandma Judy