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Jazz festival returns to college

Event will take place on plaza of campus and in theater on Aug. 15-16
by: File photo, Jazz festival-goers line up to get into the event last year.

The Mt. Hood Jazz Festival, which began at Mt. Hood Community College in 1982 but left after 2001, is returning to the site of its birth this summer.

Festival organizers and college officials announced the festival's return to the college during a press conference Monday, April 7.

Highlights of the conference included a performance by famed saxophonist James 'Red' Holloway with student musicians. In a statement, Gary Murph, the college's president, said he was excited the jazz festival was coming back to campus.

'Together we will take this event to a new level and provide visitors a festival that they will want to revisit, year after year,' Murph said.

Due to the fact that several other area arts festivals take place the first weekend in August - the jazz festival's traditional date - the festival is being moved to Friday and Saturday, Aug. 15-16, according to Susie Jones, festival director and the college's jazz band director.

Amy Maxwell, vice president of the Gresham/Mt. Hood Jazz Association, said a number of factors went into the decision to return the festival to its original site. For example, she said, for the past three years the festival has taken place at the future Gresham Center for the Arts site, but a planned plaza there won't be ready in time for this year's festival.

Maxwell and Jones stressed, however, that organizers want to showcase performances at the arts site in 2009 - when construction should be completed - as well as at the college, essentially creating a multi-site festival.

The organizers noted that this year's festival will offer free performances on the college's plaza, as well as ticketed performances in the college's 500-seat theater. Jones said the college wants to provide seating for fans, and hopes to have enough so that people won't feel the need to bring their own lawn chairs.

At this year's two-day festival, the college will offer clinics and workshops for area music students, and hopes to expand such offerings over the course of a week in the future, Jones said. The festival itself will also highlight the college's visual arts department, she said, as well as other instructional programs. The music fest may also feature such family friendly activities as hands-on pottery sculpting and rock wall climbing.

'Coming back to MHCC is only the beginning of a brighter future for the new jazz festival,' Jones said. 'Not only will we be including a great line-up of jazz artists, but in working with the college we will be featuring more than just a great musical event.'

Jones also noted that the festival offers organizers a chance to work with KMHD 89.1 FM, the community-supported jazz, blues and Latin radio station located on campus.

'It's a great opportunity for us to partner with them because we share the same goal and mission,' she said. For example, the organizers are considering discussing with the radio station the possibility of broadcasting the festival live, she said.

The festival may also feature jam sessions at various downtown Gresham clubs and restaurants, the organizers said.

The festival has experienced a number of ups and downs throughout its history. During its heyday in the 1980s, tens of thousands of people came to the college to see such performers as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Wynton Marsalis. However, as the economy underwent its own ups and downs, financial difficulties beset organizers, and the festival dwindled for years before collapsing under a pile of debt. In 2002, the Gresham/Mt. Hood Jazz Association formed and put together a two-day event at Gresham's Main City Park.

Last year's festival featured world-renowned percussionist Bobby Torres, renowned bassist Christian McBride, the Nicholas Payton Quintet and Dorado Schmidt and the Django Reinhardt Festival Band with guest star saxophonist Harry Allen. About 3,000 people showed up, and while the festival didn't break even, it also didn't take a bath, Jones said.

Today's leaner, tighter festival will still attract quality talent, she added.

'I think we'll get some good names out there. There's a lot of names out there to choose from, including local and national talent.'

Reporter Rob Cullivan can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling 503-492-5116.