An Interview With
by Dick Bogle
The Joe Tex blues band arrived in Portland by bus in late 1969, but when it was time to leave, one band member decided stay in the city of roses. Trumpeter Thara Memory had fallen in love with Portland, its’ clean streets, racial harmony and friendly folk and has been here ever since, now for over 30 years Memory rapidly built a reputation as an excellent jazz and blues player, arranger, composer and educator. He recorded the CD “Juke Music” under his own name and has been a sideman with various Mel Brown and Akbar De Priest bands through the years..
In March this year, he will graduate from Marylhurst University with a degree in Composition and Conducting. Sunday, February 25, Memory will make his conducting debut leading the University symphony, the Mel Brown Sextet, African drummers and story tellers in performance of his symphonic work”Middle Passage.””Middle Passage” is about a young African woman named Seke who is captured in Africa on her wedding day and forced to endure the tortuous trip to America and slavery. Memory and I chatted about his work.
JazzUSA: How long has been in your mind to do something like this?
T.M.: A lot of that comes from how I grew up. In the community where I came from there were all kinds of music happening simultaneously. In fact, when I went home in 1985, you could hear all this going on in different houses at the same time.
JazzUSA: This particular piece, “Middle Passage.” What inspired you to do something pertaining to the middle passage and how long did it take you to develop the idea from a concept to hard notes on paper?
T.M.: It took me three years. The idea of writing a piece of music that talks about and illustrates about a woman being taken as a slave and coming to America as a slave, the successive generations that come from her. It’s like the history of my “great mother.” That’s a part of history we don’t focus on. We focus on the history of our “great fathers,” the patriarch but not our “great mothers.”
JazzUSA: How many movements does your work have?
T.M.: It has three movements. I’m going to perform the first and third movements. I’m not going to perform the second movement.
JazzUSA: Why not?
T.M.: The second movement is not the kind of movement for public consumption until I am famous enough to do it. The second movement I call the actual voyage, not the beginning nor the end of the voyage but in the middle, the actual voyage.
JazzUSA: You mean the rock and roll of the waves, the sickness aboard and the desire to escape and the suicides that took place?
T.M.: You would get sick.
JazzUSA: What was the biggest challenge in writing this piece?
T.M.: Trying to imagine how the different forces would work together like the African drums, the strings, the jazz musicians, and the European percussion, all the things that don’t normally go together.
JazzUSA: Are there times when the sextet and the orchestra are playing at the same time?
T.M.: Yeah, there are times when everything is going on at the same time.
JazzUSA: How do the emotions of the music change from movement to movement?
T.M.: You can hear the melody going and at the same time there’s something going on under it and there’s two feelings that are happening at the same time.
JazzUSA: What are the emotions?
T.M.: That’s hard for me to describe. If I could put them in words, I would just go ahead and write stories like Zora Neale Hurston. I wouldn’t write music.
JazzUSA: Do you think there will come a time when you will write only for a symphony without jazz musicians performing?
T.M.: I already have works like that waiting for them to be performed. Here’s the way I figure it. If you don’t have anything new or different to present and are conservative, it’s going to be much, much harder to get that to the public. The way I figure is to try the stuff that’s really, really different which is the hardest to present in the first place. And if you can get those things presented, then those other things in your mind like the work I’ve done on Dido’s and Aneneas’ Lament. I did this theme and variation for orchestra on it. Believe it or not the second movement of “Middle Passage” is all symphony orchestra.
JazzUSA: What do you want in your future?
T.M.: I want to share with young ones my knowledge of music, be able to present the music I already know in a way and at a price so that I can eat and pay my bills and be able to leave something permanent that can be enjoyed by others.