June 14, 2024

Mt. Hood Jazz
(Twenty) Two Years and Rolling
by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

Bravo to Bill Royston and his crew for continuing to put the annual Mt. Hood Jazz Festival on the map. After 20 years of ballooning out of control and eventually crumbling, Royston took the failed jazz fest and remade it last year as a very audience-friendly and comfortable affair, at the last minute! This year there was a little more time to plan the venue and prepare the fest, so what we got was another couple of fine afternoons at Gresham city park with a good assortment of jazz musicians. No stadium chairs or VIP seating here, it’s all general admission and you’d better bring a lawn chair or blanket to sit on.

Greg Osby mesmerized the crowd

Day one featured the Peters Drury Trio, Local legend Ron Steen’s jam session, Jason Moran and the Joe Lovano Nonet with incredible drummer Louis Nash. The Mt. Hood Jazz Festival Student Big Band opened both days. Although we managed to miss the first day, reports from all the folks we know that did make it said the turnout was smaller than day two, but the music was excellent.

Day two was sunny and not too hot, hovering in the 70’s, perfect for music. The turnout was great, filling the park but not overcrowding the available space. As

Tin Hat Trio

before, the affair was large but intimate and the acoustics were clean and clear and the volume was good. We arrived while Tin Hat Trio was playing, and found them to be more than expected (although I didn’t actually know what to expect.) Best described as “freewheeling chamber music” the group is comprised of Rob Burger on accordion, piano, pump organ, harmonica, and marxophone, Carla Kihlstedt on violin and viola, and Mark Orton on guitar, dobro, and banjo. I’d describe the sound as “Accoustic Folk Jazz” and it was very enjoyable for it’s quality and the different direction it takes jazz music.

Saxophonist Greg Osby followed and put on a good solid performance. Osby

Nnenna Freelon
photo Courtesy of Barry Frankel

kicked some of the tracks from his latest release St. Louis Shoes and had the audience mesmerized. His live performance outshines the vinyl rendition by far, showing the flair and talent that’s made Osby one of today’s young lions! Osby was followed by one of my own favorite Jazz vocalists, Nnenna Freelon, who was as lovely and vivacious on stage as I’ve ever seen her. Nnenna took the stage and began to sing with such strength and flavor that she could have been singing anything… nursery rhymes even … and it would have sounded good. The last act on the bill was The Classical Jazz Quarter featuring Kenny Barron, Stefon Harris, Rufus Reid and drummer extraordinaire Lewis Nash. This immensely talented group brought the festival to a close on a warmer, jazzier note. No time for play, these guys got right down to it and kept the audience in their control throughout the set. By the time we left the sun was going down and our musical appetites had been fully and enjoyably sated.

One of the problems with the Mt. Hood Jazz festival in recent years was the Bloat … I guess it just got too big. Patrons were treated more like cattle than jazz fans, the price was too high, the acts were too far away to see, the

Festival Saviour
Bill Royston

concessions required BIG dough and the sound was usually so-so. This was all because the nice little festival got way too big for it’s britches and it’s

More Mt. Hood Jazz 2003 Photos in

formerly-cool venue. The fact that it went under was a blessing in disguise because this new incarnation has all the intimacy and enjoyment that Mt.Hood jazz once stood for. Bill Royston has clearly targeted the festival to the straight-ahead jazz crowd, and it seems to have been a good idea because it indeed brought out the people to fill up the park. Another reason the old festival went under (in my mind) is because it tried to cater to ALL flavors of jazz, eventually needing too many acts to fulfill that mission. The current formula is working, but I’d personally like to see a little bit of smooth jazz and it would bring out a few more patrons, I think. You can keep the Kenny G., but a little Mindi Abair or Peter White would add to this already great affair.

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