Preview of Portland Jazz Festival

A Mirror and Focus for the Jazz Community
February 2011 Vol. 27, No. 2
Seattle, Washington

Jewish and African Americans Playing Jazz Together – the 2011 Portland Jazz Festival
By Steve Griggs

It took Bill Royston seven years to bring the theme for the 2011 Portland Jazz Festival to life. Inspired back in 2003 by an account of Willie “The Lion” Smith in Nat Hentoff’s American Music Is, the Portland Jazz Festival Artistic Director explores the musical relationship of African Americans and Jews in the 2011 theme Bridges and Boundaries: Jewish & African Americans Playing Jazz Together. But is the Pacific Northwest ready to embrace race, religion, and politics related to jazz?

Ready or not, we have a schedule that covers two weekends (February 18-27) and packs in more than 100 events. Ticketed concerts include internationally recognized contemporary jazz masters Randy Weston, Anat Fort, Dave Frishberg, Don Byron, Esperanza Spalding, Nik Bartsch’s Ronin, Poncho Sanchez, the 3 Cohens (Anat, Avaishai, and Yuval), SFJAZZ Collective, Regina Carter, Joshua Redman, and Maceo Parker. Royston suggests adventurous attendees check out the progressive quintet with a new recording contract, the Blue Cranes (on the Nik Bartsch show), and a group of three Jewish and three African American musicians, the Afro-Semitic Experience (on the 3 Cohens show).

The festival showcases local jazz musicians and school ensembles with more than 70 events free to the public. In addition to Portland veterans like Tom Grant, Gary Hobbs, Rebecca Kilgore, Gordon Lee, Ron Steen, and John Stowell, Royston recommends listeners check out saxophonist Devin Phillips, a recent import from New Orleans.

The venues for the festival and partner events are theaters, hotels, restaurants, pubs, cafes, schools, churches, and synagogues. The festival’s web pages have convenient links to Google Maps and venue web sites. Royston thinks acoustics are best at the Newmark Theater, but he also recommends the Rogue Distillery and Public House, home of the festival’s special brew – Jazz Guy Ale. Royston is the Jazz Guy, with his picture on the bottle’s label to prove it! But you don’t have to go to the Rogue Distillery to find the beer. All the venues serving alcohol will feature the sponsor’s drinks.