Gateway area scores Ventura Park concerts

You might be surprised to learn the identity of the classically-trained concert pianist who led this “Music in the Park” series …

Warming up before his performance, classical pianist (and local realtor) Fred Sanchez said he hoped to escape the Gateway Keystone Kops paddy wagon by giving a virtuoso performance during the Ventura Park Music in the Park program. And he did!

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Although outer East Portland has numerous City parks – many of them large enough to accommodate thousands of people – the Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) “Music in the Parks” concerts haven’t made it east of 92nd Avenue – until now.

Under stormy-looking clouds and with the threat of rain, the first Gateway-area “Music in the Park” program began on Thursday, August 21, at Ventura Park, on SE Stark Street.

But, it didn’t rain – in fact, the sun came out! Slowly, an audience of nearly 200 gathered, seated on lawn chairs and blankets, to enjoy top-quality entertainment for the first time in their park.

Chief Kop Kevin Minkoff warmed up the audience at the first-ever Ventura Park concert series.

Before the show, we spoke with one of the musicians, and also one of the organizers of the event, ever-faithful Gateway booster Fred Sanchez.

“Culture is very important to help the community grow,” remarked Sanchez, as he warmed up on the grand piano atop a covered stage. “Any time we can produce a program of good music, and provide a venue for people to gather and enjoy themselves, it helps our community come together. These are the kind of events that help a neighborhood’s character grow.”

Sanchez added that cooperation between the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association and the Gateway Area of Business Association (GABA) made the concert series possible.

“Fast Fingered Fred” Sanchez plays the classics with finesse.

Sanchez plays his way out of ‘jail’
It wouldn’t be a GABA-sponsored event without the wacky antics of their pep squad, known – since 1951 – as the Gateway Keystone Kops.

To get the series going, the commissioner of the Kops, GABA board member Kevin Minkoff CPA, introduced the program to the audience and recounted the organization’s illustrious history and mission.

The Keystone Kops then brought to the stage “Fast Fingered Fred”. To earn his freedom, the audience was told, Fred Sanchez was tasked to play the piano. Sanchez proved to be more than up to the job, as he played selections from Mozart, Chopin, and other legendary classical composers.

After Sanchez “earned his release”, Minkoff told how Sanchez studied with great piano teachers, including José and Amparo Iturbi. “Sanchez found that piano recitals, competitions, and traveling didn’t leave him much time to spend for his family and for volunteer work in our community,” Minkoff explained. “So, in 1979, he formed Realty Brokers; six of his sons now work with him in this business.”

Between numbers, the Keystone Kops “passed the hat” to raise money to support the new concert series.

Sharing the stage with Sanchez was the Gordon Neal Herman Trio, with their namesake on piano, Rick Maier on drums, and Jerrold Fentress on bass. They played original and standard light, traditional, and modern jazz tunes; the audience showed appreciation with applause.

Between the acts, the Keystone Kops passed their hats, literally, through the audience, accepting donations to help support the concert series.

The following week, this two-part concert series featured a Cuban dance party with the music by Melao de Cana.

As the sun comes out, Martin Wyatt decides he needs to make some cool-looking sun glasses, with the help of his dad, Andy – at the Portland Parks & Recreation activity booth.

The organizers asked that we share their special thanks to the East Portland Neighborhood Organization Small Grants Program. Additional sponsors for the concert series included Classique Floors, Realty Brokers, American Sani-Can, Cooley Partners, Michelle’s Pianos, and Adventist Medical Center.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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