Sunset at the Zoo returns with jazz nod to years gone by

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Local legend Mel Brown will headline first of zoo's Wednesday evening events, July 10

In 1979, the zoo launched its first summer concert series: an eight-week run of outdoor jazz and classical shows billed as "Your Zoo and All That Jazz." First to hit the stage that year was a quartet led by bebop master Mel Brown — and, with a tip of the porkpie hat to those jazzy roots, the Oregon Zoo will be welcoming Brown back on July 10 to help kick off this summer's Sunset at the Zoo events.

Brown — a local legend who spent much of the 1960s and '70s drumming for Motown chart-toppers like the Temptations, Supremes and Four Tops — will be joined by an all-star band that includes Shirley Nanette (vocals), Sweet Baby James Benton (vocals), Thara Memory (trumpet), Renato Caranto (tenor sax), Tom Grant (piano), Dave Captein (bass) and Ron Steen (drums).

Sunset at the Zoo, presented this year by Banfield Pet Hospital, debuted in 2012 as an expansion of the zoo's traditional Wednesday concerts. Free for zoo members, the popular evening series presents a feel-good festival vibe, with live music from local artists, family-friendly activities and the chance to get to know animals active during twilight hours. Sunset at the Zoo is also supported by Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon and U.S. Bank.

In addition to jazz on the main stage, the July 10 happenings will feature African-style marimba music from the Boka Marimba ensemble; a bird show from the zoo's popular Wild Life Live program, presented by Portland General Electric; storytelling from the Dragon Theater puppet company; and some advanced hula-hoopery from Erika Fey, aka the Mayor of Hooperville. Guests can also participate in face-painting, self-guided twilight hikes, a glow-in-the-dark dragonfly craft, and games with a "crepuscular creatures" theme.

Sunset at the Zoo takes place every other Wednesday in July and August, from 5 to 8 p.m. (visitors may remain on zoo grounds until 9:30). Admission is free for zoo members, with regular zoo admission prices in effect for non-members.