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George Colligan’s Jazz Truth on the Unique Appeal of Jazz Festivals

The noted pianist blogs about his recent experiences playing at the Newport and Cathedral Park jazz festivals

George Colligan

It’s interesting that, while many of us are constantly and annoyingly lamenting the state of jazz and lack of venues and listeners, there remain a large number of jazz festivals, not only in the United States, but all over the world. Festivals are great to be a part of because it really feels like a special event, and hopefully, there are large enthusiastic crowds. Jazz festivals are one of the few places where jazz musicians can almost feel like a rock star! Also, being a performer but also a jazz fan myself, I get to hear a bunch of bands that I wouldn’t normally get to hear-for free! Plus I get to see many old friends and colleagues, if only for a few minutes of conversation between the dressing room and the stage. Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming, and honestly, I’m not sure why you would want to have more than one show happening simultaneously, where folks have to either choose between two great artists, or walk back and forth between multiple venues; it feels a little like when I used to go to Tower Records in New York and they would have five different televisions all showing music videos, none of which were related to the music piped through the speakers! Still, I’m glad that festivals are still in existence, maybe even thriving, or at least surviving. And I feel lucky to get to do them occasionally.

Festivals are probably the most prestigious, and therefore competitive venue in jazz. (I’ve sent material to MANY a festival and been turned down.) There are the huge jazz festivals like The North Sea in Holland, Monterey in California, and Montreux in Switzerland; however, there are countless smaller festivals all over the place which, if they are well organized, are also fun to be a part of. I recently got not one but three chances to play on the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival in Portland. I had heard that this festival had some problems last year. Thanks to organizers Paul Evans and Mary Sue Tobin, this year’s inception of the festival was from my and all other accounts a huge success. Cathedral Park is in North Portland, right in a lovely neighborhood called St. John’s, and right in front of the Willamette River. I played three sets: one with trumpeter Farnell Newton and some of our PSU students, one with saxophonist Pete Peterson and his group, and then I closed the day as the headliner with my quartet featuring David Valdez on alto, Chris Higgins on bass, and Alan Jones on drums. It was a long day in the sun, but the audiences were large and enthusiastic. I’m looking forward to hopefully being a part of it next year.

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