Bill Royston: Portland Jazz Festival Stretches Out
AAJ: This year's PDX Jazz fest was overflowing with educational events, including masterclasses, jazz dialogues, workshops, a week-long Jim Pepper tribute, free tickets to aspiring musicians via the Maiden Voyage Project, and a 75-minute "Incredible Journey of Jazz" presentation on jazz history attended by four area middle schools. How would you gauge the community's response to this year's educational festival events?
BR: I think that the strengths of this year's festival were the free gigs and the education events. This is the second year for the "Incredible Journey of Jazz", and we've now taken the music/theater piece to eight different Portland middle schools. Darrell Grant is a great pianist and friend. He developed the "Journey of Jazz" through his Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute, which in one year has become a vital part of the Portland jazz scene. Darrell is also behind the Maiden Voyage Project, which provides funds for young people to attend their first jazz concert. This year Darrell received the contributions to purchase 100 PDX Jazz tickets for 100 young people Maiden Voyage into jazz. For me, the highlight was Andy Narell showing 30+ 7-year olds how to play a steel drum at 10AM at the Portland Children's Museum. Needless to say, the education & outreach events were memorable, and will remain a key component of the Portland Jazz Festival.
AAJ: What did you personally take away from the experience of celebrating Black History Month in conjunction with the 2005 Portland Jazz Festival?
BR: Maybe it's because I came from Philadelphia, but I was amazed to discover the lack of a citywide celebration [in Portland]. Jazz is a significant part of Black History, and I think that we've done a good job of linking the two together. That gives me personal satisfaction.
AAJ: I imagine that acting as Portland's unofficial king of jazz must tempt your vanity. Is it a problem keeping your ego in check?
BR: Wow! The King of Jazz? Well, hardly... but if I were I'd issue several proclamations: 1) No clapping at the end of solos on ballads. 2) No music stands or sheet music permitted on jazz stages. 3) Every hotel lobby must have a concert-quality acoustic piano. 4) Improvise your music and not your life! No, really, I haven't been here long enough to know all about this area. I get out to clubs and local gigs as much as I can, but not enough. When I first came here, it was partially because of my success presenting Smooth Jazz festivals on the east coast (I've often stated that I love straight-ahead jazz, but it's Smooth Jazz that is putting my kids through college!). My first year or two with Mt. Hood Jazz Festival was a lot of Smooth Jazz, but I learned that Portland is not a Smooth Jazz town. Portland couldn't even support a Smooth Jazz radio station for more than 18 months. I learned my lesson, and I'm still learning. I'm very pleased with the first 2 years of PDX Jazz.
AAJ: What Portland Jazz Festival changes can we look forward to in 2006?
BR: Well, the 2006 dates are February 17-26. The Presidents Day weekend is on the front end with our partnered, community events on the second weekend. The education programs will again be on the weekdays in between the two weekends. So, the tourism driven period with the headline artists will be February 17-19. I haven't even contemplated who might appear. Any ideas?
Yeah, here's one: Check out pdxjazz.com to learn more about the festival, including a brief history of Portland's post-World War II-era jazz scene.