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Portland Cello Project Showcases The Cello's Range And Elliott Smith's Songwriting

Tarina Westlund / Courtesy

Tarina Westlund / Courtesy

Want to hear Taylor Swift’s hit song "Shake It Off" performed primarily by cellos? Of course you do. The Portland Cello Project makes that and many more dreams come true with a mixture of classical, rock and pop songs played in clubs and bars across the country.

We caught up with Portland Cello Project founder and classically trained cellist, Doug Jenkins ahead of the group's Sacramento show at Harlows on January 22.

Jenkins explained the origins of the group began when a bunch of cellists gathered to jam and drink beer.

“One night after too many beers we thought ‘let’s play this music in rock clubs’,” Jenkins said. “We try to bridge different communities together musically and have fun. It’s always been the goal to make things accessible. To not have that invisible brick wall between performer and audience.”

That was back in 2007, since then they’ve rotated through different players and toured as much as possible. The group has collaborated with many different musicians, from the Dandy Warhols to Garrison Keillor.

Each Portland Cello Project performance consists of a four to six cellists and a playlist of pop, rock and classical compositions.

“We could play Bach one second and explain the history of the piece. And immediately follow it with a cover of Kanye West and show how they're similar,” said Jenkins. “There’s something good in all music – let’s find the commonalities and enjoy them together.”

On this tour, the group will be playing some Elliott Smith covers song from their new album, to e.s.

“He’s one of the best things about Portland and this group is all about celebrating Portland,” Jenkins said about choosing to cover Elliott Smith. “We really try to showcase what Elliot did compositionally, there’s so much depth to the music. It’s incredibly rich songwriting style.”

Because of the depth of the songwriting, this album took longer to write and record than any other album. Over a year of experimenting and recording and re-recording went into crafting this record.

So why cellos? What is it about the cello that lends itself to this sort of music?

“It has a very wide range. You can play very low notes, the lowest notes a human can sing all the way to notes higher than a human can sing,” said Jenkins. “The variety of the range let’s you do so many different things.”

Unlike the violin, which comes in different sizes and pitches. The cello is all one instrument. There are no soprano cellos, just players who can draw those notes from the instrument.


Portland Cello Project on World Cafe


 Portland Cello Project

Melody Stone

Interactive Producer

After working in newspapers and doing print journalism for years, Melody transitioned into digital marketing and design. With a healthy blend of journalistic and digital media skills she builds out interactive web stories for  Read Full Bio