Portland Jazz Festival Announces 2011 Theme

Fest programming to feature unique theme of Bridges & Boundaries: Jewish & African Americans Playing Jazz Together

The usual role of the jazz writer is to document, characterize or even criticize music and events. Historically, the jazz writer generally doesn’t provide inspiration to artists and promoters. But for Bill Royston, artistic director of the Portland Jazz Festival, Nat Hentoff’s words gave him the template for programming the 2011 festival, which takes place February 18 through February 27 at various venues throughout the city. The festival has just announced that theme of the 2011 event will be Bridges and Boundaries: Jewish & African Americans Playing Jazz Together.

Stuart Brinin

Regina Carter

In a press release received at JazzTimes, Royston said that: “The original idea for this festival came from Nat Hentoff’s writings about jazz as a meeting place for African and Jewish Americans. His writings of Steven Bernstein’s ‘Diaspora Blues’ to the odyssey of Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith were of primary influence. Historically, the music drew people together, and today there is a new wave of Israeli musicians who have moved to New York and elsewhere.”

The festival will feature performances by Joshua Redman (son of African-American jazz musician Dewey Redman and Jewish American dancer Renee Shedroff), Avishai Cohen (up-and-coming Israeli trumpeter) and Regina Carter, the MacArthur grantee whose latest project explored the rich African diaspora. In addition, the festival’s new Artistic & Community Ambassador Esperanza Spalding will lead her new Chamber Music Society in an exclusive Portland area engagement and also participate, with other artists (and writers) in panel discussions and “Jazz Conversations” focusing on artistic and social perspectives.

The complete festival lineup and schedule will be announced on October 13 when single concert and special package tickets go on pre-sale exclusively to PDX Jazz members. Tickets will become available to the general public on October 23. For more information about the festival, you can visit its Web site.


  • Sep 27, 2010 at 11:39AM Thrasher

    I have my reservations with these cross/pollination themes especially the Jewish/Black jazz theme where there is a lot of bumpy history from Jewish promoters taking advantage of Black artis to Jewish historians trying to claim they invented Jazz with their Klezmer heritage to Black artists dumbing down their creativity so not to offend Jewish interests...

  • Sep 27, 2010 at 07:47PM Lee Mergner

    Thanks for the input. I too often have reservations about so many themes in our concept-heavy world. In this case, it seems to me that the history of jazz is marked by such cross-pollination and cross-collaboration, and though the "bumpy" politics of exploitation can be debated and I am sure will be debated, the issue of how Jewish and African-American cultures have intersected in the world of jazz could be a rich and unique topic for a major jazz festival to take on. Personally, I don't see people like Nat Hentoff or the Israeli musicians trying to claim that the Jewish people invented jazz. And I don't expect any jazz artist to dumb down his/her creativity. That would indeed be a travesty. Jazz has always led the way in bridging cultures and peoples. May it ever be so.

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