Creating a jazz community in Sisters
Last updated 8/15/2023 at 10:15am
Robert Sposato is a man on a mission.
Carrying a deep passion for jazz music, he has built a successful jazz series at Sisters Depot in Sisters.
That series continues with Michelle van Handel’s Something Good Quartet on Saturday, August 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Sisters Depot.
According to Sposato, “Popular keyboardist and jazz vocalist Michelle van Handel has been a staple of jazz in Central Oregon for several decades, but she rarely performs in Sisters. She brings a talented quartet for an evening of swinging tunes, from bebop to the blues, and even an off-ramp to pop songs made jazzy. Her endearing stage presence and stylish vocals never fail to entertain.”
The band includes veteran jazz guitarist Dillon Schneider, trumpet master Jim Tennant, and talented young bassist Evan Brawn.
“The original intent was to… establish a footprint for jazz,” Sposato told The Nugget last week. “I always wanted a series of concerts for adults and (to) establish a community.”
As reported in The Nugget in 2020, Sposato can trace his passion for jazz to a specific moment. Growing up in the 1960s, he enjoyed the rock music of the day, including a six-month infatuation with the Grateful Dead. Then he heard the Miles Davis Quintet’s 1955 recording of “Round Midnight” with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone.
“That was it,” he told The Nugget.
Sposato would go on to create a life in jazz. While his musical passion sometimes had to take a back seat to building a career in education and raising a family, it never left him. From Nevada City, where he was a radio volunteer and jazz DJ; to Ashland, Oregon, where he built Varsity Theater “Backstage,” a cabaret; to Eugene, where he taught English at Lane Community College and created and operated The Jazz Station, a nonprofit, live jazz venue, Sposato has been a tireless apostle of the music he loves.
“I basically built a small but loyal audience,” he said of the Eugene venue. “Forty or 50 people were the core of the audience. I thought I could do that here.”
He smiled as he noted that “A lot of it was selfish. I wanted to hear good music, and I wanted to have friends. And that has happened.”
The jazz series at Sisters Depot has been a success, with artists playing to a full house. (Reservations are recommended in order to ensure a seat. Call 541-904-4660.)
Last Sunday, the series featured a jazz jam with some 16 musicians participating. Jamming is a key element of jazz music — and it’s an important aspect of Sposato’s mission.
“You make them feel like they’re part of a community, you treat them really well, and hope they come back,” he said.
The jazz aficionado hopes to develop a regular jam in Sisters, probably starting with young musicians from the Sisters School District program — for whom he had high praise.
“I’d like to at least start there,” he said. “I’d like to tack an adult jam on the back of it.”
The magic happens when you mix adult players and kids, because it’s there that the torch is kindled and passed from generation to generation, keeping an American original art form vibrant.