You would probably be forgiven for calling the Oregon Coast Jazz Party a festival. The sheer volume of musicians and packed event schedule, which will revolve around Newport’s Performing Arts Center from Friday, Oct. 6 through Oct. 8, resemble many a festival, but the word party is used quite on purpose.
“It’s sort of like jam sessions, except the musicians are so talented you can’t tell that’s what it is,” said jazz flutist Holly Hofmann, who is on her ninth year as music director for the event. “I played what was back then called a festival 10 years ago when they were bringing up individual groups, which was expensive. So I suggested trying what we call the party format, which is basically an all-star group of musicians that play in a mix and match configuration. You can tell the musicians are the best of the best because the audience can’t tell that some of these musicians are playing together for the very first time, right there in front of them.”
Over the years, Hofmann has developed a formula for choosing the artists that are invited to the party.
“First, I have favorites, who are artists I invite back based on comments I receive on comment cards,” she said. “Then I add some brand-new artists who’ve never been heard at this event. Finally, I make sure we have representation by Oregon artists. I think the exposure is good for them, since the audience comes from at least five different states, but I also think it’s good for people from Oregon to get to hear their Oregonian artists.”
One constant runs through her selection process, however: “I don’t hire anyone I haven’t heard live,” she said.
Returning favorites include Grammy winning bassist John Clayton, four-time Grammy nominated pianist Gerald Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton, bassist Mary Ann McSweeney, tenor sax-man Houston Person, drummer Chuck Redd and pianist Mike Wofford.
New to the event this year are the George Cables trio, led by pianist George Cables with bassist Essiet Okon Essiet and drummer Victor Lewis; the George Colligan Trio, led by pianist George Colligan with bassist Chris Higgins and drummer Chris Brown; and guitarist Russell Malone, Thomas Marriott on trumpet, vocalist Greta Matassa, drummer Ryan Shaw. Representing our fair state this year will be the Oregon-based Bossanaire Septet.
Though the event features artists from as far away as New York, Los Angeles, and Maryland, and some years has even had international artists, Hofmann says getting them here doesn’t take much effort.
“It’s amazing for a small town like Newport to have this kind of star studded event because these artists play jazz festivals all over the world,” she said. “The first year when I came to play the festival, I was just amazed at the location. It really makes it easier to attract great players. Especially since this is such an ideal time of year.”
Though people might not expect “9 am,” in the same story as “professional jazz musicians,” the party does indeed start on Friday at 9 am, when people can pick up passes for the weekend and tour the PAC. The first live music event starts at 7 pm, which kicks of the multiple sets of jam sessions, nightcap performances, and even a few free educational events.
“All of these are touring artists except a few local groups,” Hofmann said. “They are all full-time jazz musicians and educators. Just Jazz is an organization in Newport that provides opportunities for young people, they are sponsoring three clinics.”
One such educational session is “Jazz 101- What To Listen For?” presented by pianist Mike Wofford, bassist John Clayton, drummer Jeff Hamilton, and flutist Holly Hofmann.
Nightcap performances will take place at the Shilo Inn Suites Hotel on Friday and Saturday evenings after the jam sessions at the PAC.
“People really love those because it’s a little less formal,” Hofmann said. “You can go right up to the artists, maybe buy them a drink.”
After nearly a decade of directing, a question comes up fairly frequently for Hofmann.
“People want to know what kind of jazz they will be hearing,” she said. “Really the best way to describe it is that it’s mostly straight-ahead jazz; swinging, accessible, and very uplifting. It’s jazz in the tradition of the masters, like Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Miles Davis. You won’t be hearing any easy listening or smooth jazz. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not what you’ll be hearing at the Oregon Coast Jazz Party.”
All seating is reserved; ticket prices vary by session. For local jazz fans who want to join the party, Oregon Coast Council for the Arts offers discounts on all sessions except Session 5; OCCA members get discounts on all sessions. Get your locals or OCCA member discounts on tickets at the box office of the Newport Performing Arts Center, located at 777 W Olive Street. For a brochure, more information and tickets, visit oregoncoastjazzparty.org or call 541-265-ARTS (2787).