By J. Michael Kearsey
In 1841, Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in Paris. In 1961, Stan Wood invented the Vibraband in Portland. Wood, whose music and visual art was known worldwide, passed away August 1. He was a Mt. Tabor resident who could be seen walking to Hawthorne and back, often stopping to test the acoustics of an alley or a stairwell by playing his Vibraband, a conceptual extension of the ‘blade of grass between my thumbs’ and a flexible reed instrument akin to Mr. Sax’s device. His presence in the music and art community will be sadly missed.
Wood attended Beaumont Grade School and graduated from Grant High School in 1959. His early passion for art was rewarded with a Scholastic Magazine scholarship to the Rudolph Schaeffer Design School in San Francisco. He went on to attend Brigham Young University where he met lifelong friend and musician, Jim Pepper.
Returning to Portland to attend the Museum Art School, Wood began to experiment with his Vibraband in the hallways and classrooms. Among many musical friends, he met members of a jazz workshop and began to play with this group Sunday day nights at the 9th Street Exit Coffeehouse.
When the coffeehouse forced an end to the John Coltrane-inspired spired jams, the workshop moved to the 11th Muse Gallery on SW 4th and Ya4th and Yamhill and began jamming and rehearsing for over a year, emerging as the Jazz/Rock band, UPEPO that moved into the club and festival circuit in 1972.
UPEPO toured the West Coast from the Canadian border to Santa Cruz and released several 45s and one LP titled International Ties. The earliest 45 featured Stan on Vibraband taking a solo on the song “My Orange Bears.” It was the first release of any recorded Vibraband and was re-recorded for the UPEPO LP.
After the band broke up, Wood returned to his earliest love, painting. His showings at Portland galleries always drew crowds and raves with his intense oil overlays, swirling minutiae and subtle symbolism. His work was shown at Augen, Elizabeth Leach galleries and Pacific Northwest College of Art’s Centennial show in 2009.
Wood continued with his musical adventures throughout the next thirty years, performing in the Gone Orchestra and most notably with Smegma (“playful counter-traditional West Coast experimentalism”), a band now known as Dr. Amazon.
He released CDs and cassettes of his own personal projects under the titles of Vibraband (with guitarist Dan McLaughlin) or The Stan Wood Trio. The Vibraband Trio just released a self-titled CD this year featuring Wood with drummers Danny Frankel and Kenny Wollesen, bassist Greg Cohen and Marissa Anderson on guitars.
Wood enjoyed playing the world over, with Smegma at European festivals, with Ken and John Butler in New York and even on the Jay Leno Tonight show. He appeared on To Tell the Truth in 1991, hosted by Alex Trebek and most recently, he was honored, by the Portland Creative Music Guild, with a performance by his last performance group, Blue Lighter.
No matter what group of musicians were around him, Stan Wood played with a free spirit and singular musical intent. His Vibraband sounds could be as quiet as drops of rain falling from a leaf in the forest, as dominating as a 747 landing at PDX or soulful as a Rahsaan Roland Kirk blues.
Because this fretless piece of rubber could be stretched while blown, its octaves contained an infinity of notes, but in the hands of its master, the Vibraband had a sound all its own. His spirit lives on with his beautiful artwork and unstoppable musical curves and vectors. Many Stan Wood youtubes can be seen with the Vibraband in action. Sit back and enjoy the music.