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Jazz festival gets its groove back

The 25th annual Mt. Hood Jazz Festival picks it up a notch
by: Shanda Tice, Albany’s Jeanie Watts enjoys the Dave Valentin group Saturday at the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival.

The magic is back.

After five years of rebuilding the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival and saving it from extinction, organizers say Gresham's signature event is back on track.

'It felt almost magical,' said Sue O'Halloran, treasurer for the jazz festival board of directors. 'I think we're hitting our stride. … I think this year we really captured the flavor of a true jazz festival.'

This year's 25th annual festival began Friday, Aug. 4, with a hip, coffeehouse vibe as Bryan Dickerson and the Mt. Hood Community College All-stars packed Café Delirium. About 50 people sat on stools and sprawled on couches, bopping heads and tapping feet to songs such as Cannonball Adderley's 'Jubilation' and Charles Mingus' 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.'

'I feel that the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival is really on a roll again, getting that energy back,' said Dickerson, a part-time jazz teacher at Mt. Hood Community College, after his Café Delirium set.

'It's perfect,' Dickerson said of the cozy coffee shop venue. 'Jazz just loses its energy when it tried to communicate across a football field,' he said, referring the festival's original location at Mt. Hood Community College's stadium.

Plus, the festival is once again featuring up-and-coming student talent like the Mt. Hood students Dickerson jammed with - P.J. Dyer on keyboard, Patrick Harry on bass, Brian Sprague on drums and Sam Solano on saxophone.

Their fresh faces are the future of jazz.

Although talented beyond their years, they're too young to play in bars. It's the same situation headliner and trumpeter Chris Botti found himself in as a 14-year-old growing up in Corvallis.

Lucky for Botti, his talented mother, a classically trained pianist, literally opened doors for him, as did his mentor, Portland drummer Ron Steen.

An enchanted evening

On Friday night, Aug. 4, as the sky turned pink and the moon brightened, Botti took to the festival main stage located for the second time in a grassy field off Northeast Second Street and Hood Avenue in historic downtown Gresham - the future sight of Gresham's Center for the Arts.

Botti and his quintet pierced the night sky with the pure sound of his trumpet, with tunes such as 'A Thousand Kisses Deep,' 'When I Fall in Love,' 'Flamenco Sketches' and 'Cinema Paradiso.'

He changed course with 'My Funny Valentine,' which he usually dedicates to fellow-trumpet player and jazz legend Miles Davis. 'I never did get to meet Miles Davis, but I did get to meet Ron Steen,' Botti said, dedicating the song instead to his longtime mentor who also was at the festival.

In true full-circle fashion, Steen even finished up Friday night's lineup by leading a jam session at the Main Street Ale House.

On Saturday, Aug. 5, bebop sweetened the streets with unruly scales and improvisational harmonies wound infectiously through open windows.

Sunflower petals wilted under the ruthless heat, and the only shade afforded to onlookers was temporary, under a pavilion staked at the back of the grounds. But people were drawn to the music, armed with swimsuits, wide-brimmed hats and ice cream, determined to soak in the jazz.

Many students played their first professional performance with the East Metro All-Star Jazz Band, which opened Saturday's festivities on a local note.

Susie Jones co-directs the students with Charley Gray, a professor at Portland State University. She said students must demonstrate serious dedication to be nominated to play with the All-Stars.

'Here, the people they are playing for come for the jazz, it isn't like performances at school,' Jones said. 'For a few of the students it raises their level of passion. Some of the students are already very passionate and for them, this experience helps to really click all of their teachings into place.'

Saturday

sizzles

The Thara Memory Super Band took the stage as a cool breeze began to stir the early evening air.

Johnson's strong vocal presence in songs like Diana Ross's 'Touch Me in the Morning' shifted gears for the audience, which appeared refueled by the breeze and began interacting more with performers, clapping their hands and tapping their feet.

Dick Bogle, local jazz critic, said the versatile range of music offered at the festival was ideal, even if the venue was not.

'Last year was too hot. It kept me away. I need more shade,' he said.

Happy Valley residents Kristen and Fer Klug disagreed.

They attended the festival in the mid 1990s when it was still at the local college and returned - this time to the new downtown venue - to see Botti blow his horn Friday night.

'I like it … it's less overwhelming,' Kristen said of the new venue, sprawled on an assortment of blankets and giving her 16-month-old daughter Kai a cracker.

The event is now a chance to gather with friends and their budding families. Accompanying the Klugs were Iwona and Michael Erbe of Portland, with their daughter Aniela, 2, and Jill and D.J. Vogt of West Linn, with 9-month-old Courtney. The couples relaxed as their daughters toddled and danced to the Mel Brown Quartet.

Despite Saturday's afternoon heat, Bogle said the festival is still a treat.

'I think the highlight of the evening is going to be the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band,' Bogle said. 'Jeremy Belt, a young trumpet player in that band, is really just emerging on the national scale.'

Even saxophone legend David Sanborn paid his artistic respects to the young musicians who preceded him on stage.

Sanborn, who has played with musicians from Stevie Wonder to David Bowie, owned the audience Saturday night as he guided them through dance-worthy rhythms to charming renditions of softer tunes, like Charlie Chaplin's 'Smile.'

On Sunday night, Aug. 6, the audience of 'What a Swell Party This Is' was equally moved by the Broadway Baritones, particularly the offerings of pianist Lincoln Mayorga.

Mayorga, who said he never knows what he's going to play next until he's on the stage, has recorded with major artists like Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler.

Mayorga changed the mood in the theatre with a quick flick of his wrists and a deliberate, gentle return of his fingers to the keys well into the night.

Kirk Mouser, who organized the evening of Broadway jazz, brought the Baritones to Gresham to raise funds for the future Center for the Arts.

'I think their willingness to come out here is a tribute to the idea of the center,' Mouser said. 'These guys are known for their work and are established internationally. This evening isn't just a fund-raiser, it is a friend-raiser.'

Event a success

O'Halloran called the festival a success.

'It really went back to what a festival should be - building through the festival to something really special at the end of the day,' she said, adding that Botti and Sanborn supplied those crescendos. 'You just felt fully satisfied.'

Mary McSwain, board president of Mt. Hood Jazz Association, estimated that as many as 5,000 people attended the varied events Friday through Sunday.

The festival has averaged about 3,000 since 2002, when organizers nearly cancelled the event due to mounting debt. Instead, organizers moved the scaled-down festival to Gresham's Main City Park for three years before relocating to the future performing arts center site in 2005.

'I think it was a really great event,' McSwain said, adding that many people say they like the more intimate venue.

Multiple jazz venues - a trend with jazz festivals - provide a fuller jazz experience in which smaller settings enable fans to catch the music's subtleties, she added.

Varied venues also allow the community, particularly downtown businesses, to get caught up in the festivities. Hungry jazz fans packed restaurants and bars before, between and after performances.

Whether people were dancing in the aisles, reading paperback novels in lounge chairs or giving standing ovations in a theatre, the 25th annual Mt. Hood Jazz Festival united audiences. Together, they experienced music in their own ways, embodying the advice given Saturday by Dave Valentin during his performance with the Latin Jazz Ensemble.

'Make a good solo with your lives,' he said. 'And remember it's okay to improvise.'