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Portland Jazz Festival Is About The Music, And The City

The Portland Jazz Festival is successful for three words: urban, sophisticated and hip.

“Those three words became…kind of the mantra for starting a new festival inside Portland, ” says festival co-founder Bill Royston.

Bill Royston

Bill Royston

Geoff Norcross/OPB

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the festival, which began as an answer to the faltering Mount Hood Jazz Festival in Gresham.  Instead of an outdoor summer music event in the suburbs, Royston and company envisioned a series of concerts, inside established Portland venues, in the winter.

Royston said his model is the Berks Jazz Fest in Pennsylvania, which he also started.  The South by Southwest Conference also follows the theme: It’s about the music, but it’s also about the city.

“It’s not going to be port-a-johns.  It’s not going to be hot dogs,” Royston recalls telling his designer during the festival’s planning stages.  “It’s going to be in hotel ballrooms.  It’s going to be in the Schnitz.”

The decision to hold the festival in February was for two reasons.  The organizers wanted to honor Black History Month, and because of the weather.

Royston says, “When I first moved here, my assistant said, ‘It’s February 1. It’s spring.’  So it made sense, and I think it still does.”

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