Thara John Memory, trumpeter, conductor, educator and composer, is a consummate professional whose repertoire spans both classical and contemporary music. He has been honored with numerous awards, including induction into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and recognition as the Jazz Society of Oregon's Musician of the Year. He also has been nationally recognized as the mentor and teacher of bassist Esperanza Spalding, the first jazz musician to receive the Grammy Award for Best New Artist Award.
Thara was born in 1948 in Tampa, Florida. There, his early exposure to Cuban, African and European music formed his musical palette. He began playing the trumpet professionally at age 11, with his musical role model being Miles Davis. He would play the trumpet to his records for hours, trying to understand Miles' genius behind the music. Since moving to the Northwest in 1970, Thara has made Portland a home base for his notable and widely recognized career as a jazz performer.
Thara has performed with many local and national jazz and rhythm and blues legends, including Eddie Harris, Arturo Sandoval, Charlie Rouse, Dizzy Gillespie, Chuck Israel, Lou Rawls, Benny Maupin, Eddie Henderson, Natalie Cole, Fred Wesley and the Master Sounds, The Four Tops, Pleasure, The Leroy Vinegar Quartet, The DePriest Project, Ravi Best, Urban Agnas, Brian Lynch, Scotty Barnhart, Javon Jackson, John Handy, Dennis Springer, Bernard Purdy, Ben Wolfe, Obo Addy, George Shaw... and the list continues. Currently, Thara leads his own band, the Thara Memory Superband, and he performs regularly with the Mel Brown Septet.
Thara is sought after as a versatile and brilliantly styled musician, arranger and composer. In February 2011, Thara's operetta, "Sherman: A Jazz Opera," was presented, through financial support from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, at Portland's Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center. This groundbreaking, historical opera, developed in conjunction with award-winning writer S. Renee Mitchell, is based on the life of the late Sherman Thomas, a saxophonist in NE Portland's Jumptown era.
Although best known for his contributions to the Northwest jazz scene, Thara is a respected classical conductor. He earned his B.A. in conducting and composition from Marylhurst University. His conducting talents have been showcased as associate conductor of the Marylhurst Symphony, as guest conductor of the Portland Festival Symphony and as guest conductor of the Grande Ronde Youth Symphony. In 2001, Thara conducted the Marylhurst Symphony in the premier performance of his original composition, Middle Passage, which was reviewed and acclaimed by The Oregonian newspaper.
Thara also has a long history of teaching youth, passing on the traditions of America's art music, jazz. He has taught courses at Portland State University, Portland Community College and Marylhurst University. He has also led award-winning high school band programs at Portland's Wilson High School and Beaverton's Arts and Communications Magnet Academy. He has long collaborated to form community music programs for youth in NE Portland, earning him a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Arts Foundation and the prestigious Regional Arts and Culture Council's Fellowship for the Performing Arts in 2005.
That same year, Thara put together his current regional youth jazz orchestra, the American Music Program, which has won numerous national competitions. Because of Thara's tutelage, many of his students have received college scholarships and notoriety of their own right. Thara eschews categorization of music saying: "The principles of music are the same for Bach as they are for Ellington. Everyone, young and old, should have complete access to music making."