OTTER CREST ORIGINS
The Oregon coast has always attracted people who understand the challenges – and rewards – of “do-it-yourself” entertainment, a good example of which is the long history of serious jazz in this area. These jazz fans banded together to produce shows that they wanted to see.
As best as can be determined, serious jazz came to the central Oregon coast in 1978, when the Jazz Society of Oregon (JSO) sponsored its first Otter Crest Jazz Weekend at the Inn at Otter Crest. Several big-name jazz musicians performed during this three-day event, and although the festival was not a financial success, it raised the JSO profile, which was established in 1973 to advance public acceptance of jazz music as a viable force in contemporary culture.
Here’s a 1978 line-up, from a JSO display ad in the Sunday Oregonian announcing an “Otter Crest Jazz Weekend” for March 17, 18 and 19: Carl Fontana, Art Pepper, Blue Mitchell, Plas Johnson with Dave Mackay, Monty Budwig, Joey Baron, Andy Simpkins, Mel Brown, and more. The article billed it “… A new and innovative approach to contemporary art…” and advised its readers not to miss it. No jazz fan would.
BLACK, BROWN & BEIGE
Promoters Jim and Mary Brown, who helped to inaugurate the Otter Crest Jazz Weekend, produced this three-day version in a format that is now known as a “jazz party,” where a group of independent musicians spend a weekend performing in different groupings for several hundred dedicated fans in a retreat or resort setting. Those concerts brought many nationally-known players to the area and demonstrated that an audience for jazz existed outside the urban nightclub venues.
In delivering the Otter Crest Jazz Weekends under the “jazz party” concept, Jim and Mary Brown proved that a highly concentrated program of top-flight jazz musicians, showcased in an intimate setting, was a successful formula.
Kathy Rich moved from Portland to the coast full time around 1993. She remembers that these events took place at random – sometimes once a month, sometimes every other week – all depending on who was touring the area. Her primary partner in arranging the dates was Ralph Lodewick. Ralph would arrange the jazz musician(s) and Kathy would get busy on her phone, notifying the fans.
JAZZ ON THE WATER
After 17 years of Otter Crest Jazz Weekends, which spanned the years 1978 to 1995, Geno Michaels produced Jazz on the Water for three years, from 1997 to 1999. These events were held on Newport’s Bayfront in South Beach around the Newport Marina.
OCCA AND JAZZ
Initial discussions for the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts jazz event occurred over a period of a year, with board member Jeff Ouderkirk being the champion of the event to the board of directors.
When the idea of starting a jazz event in Newport presented itself in 2003, OCCA and its executive director at the time, Frank Geltner, came up with the name “Jazz At Newport.” Since he had, for the most part, worked with booking agencies, that is the model he brought to OCCA that first year.
Sponsorships proved critical to get the event off the ground. Founding sponsors included West Coast Bank and board member Jeff Ouderkirk, Ouderkirk’s friends in the Agate Beach Surf Club, and many other community partners such as Windermere West Coast Properties. Media partners, in-kind gifts, and generous cash donations made it possible to present this celebration of America’s unique art form.
Sponsorships have expanded over the years to include, most notably, the City of Newport, the Newport News-Times, and, in recent years, the Reverend Carol Stubbs Smith and North Coast Brewing.
IN SUPPORT OF JAZZ
Supplementing the performances of the event itself, OCCA presented “Jazz Fridays” concerts every Friday leading up to the event, in the early years. These were staged in the lobby of the Newport Performing Arts Center, featuring some of the finest local jazz artists.
Jazz Around Town was an effort to include local lodging properties and restaurants, and to provide an outlet for local and regional jazz artists. Artists appearing at the event performed “off hours” at local venues – that is, when they weren’t playing at the event itself. Jazz Around Town continued in one form or another for a number of years as well.
NEWPORT’S FIRST YEAR
The first Jazz at Newport year of 2004 featured a very broad event, with shows scattered all over Newport at more than a dozen venues – a challenge for producers, and so many shows to think about for patrons that “overkill” was a common term in their discussions, that first year.
THE NEXT STEP
During the 2004 event Geltner met renowned jazz flutist, composer, arranger, band-leader and – as it turned out – jazz party producer Holly Hofmann, who offered an idea about the difference between a “festival” and a “jazz party.”
The “jazz party” proved to be a formula that had been tried at many locations, including the Otter Crest Jazz Weekend. However, the success of such a format is directly related to having a music director who is close to successful artists. For Newport’s event, that person was Holly Hofmann, who became music advisor in 2006, “named” music director in 2007, and the event’s official music director since 2008.
In 2006, with Hofmann’s assistance in shifting to the jazz party concept, artists were booked who would symbolically connect the jazz party to its predecessor, the Otter Crest Jazz Weekend.
When Geltner retired from his position as executive director of OCCA, the event’s future was uncertain. What was the future of jazz at Newport?
Fortunately, when Geltner retired, OCCA’s new executive director, Catherine Rickbone, and the OCCA board continued the event and the committee happily set out to make it even better.
In the meantime, the non-profit Just Jazz was formed to be the successor organization if, for any reason, OCCA would discontinue its support of the event. Just Jazz has become dedicated to jazz education surrounding the Oregon Coast Jazz Party.
Jazz Dialogues – free, open-to-the-public interviews of jazz artists at which audience members could also ask questions – were introduced in the first year, featuring Phil Brenes of KMHD, who was also a JSO board member and past vice president. The dialogues involved a great deal of research by Brenes, including many excerpts from each artist’s discography. These were recorded live for later broadcast on KMHD radio, an important voice for jazz in Portland.
In 2010, as Brenes’s retirement and other commitments took more of his time, the dialogues “morphed” into an interactive jazz panel featuring many musicians, moderated by none other than Hofmann herself.
Jazz clinics from event musicians have also been a feature since the event’s origin.
JAZZ IN COLOR
Each year, the event has pinned its identity on a compelling image illustrating jazz. In the inaugural year of 2004, the featured graphic was extracted from a painting by local artist Jon Zander from Jeff Ouderkirk’s collection. Every year thereafter OCCA has selected artwork from local and regional artists to serve as the “face” of the party.
The artwork featured in 2005 was by Newport artist Juergen Eckstein, and in 2006 by Seattle-based artist Nancy Peacock. In 2007, Mimi Fox’s “Blue Clarinet” was the featured graphic, while 2008’s image was a stylized photo of John Clayton’s bass by Nancy Jane Reid, former director of the Newport Visual Arts Center, and photographer of note in Newport. In 2009, Bill Kucha’s “Jazz Singer” painting was the featured graphic.
Connie Williams won the juried art contest twice with her paintings “Drummer Riff” in 2010 and “West Coast Jazz” in 2011. In 2012, the artwork was created by Eileen Hearne.
SINE QUA NON
Volunteers are a large part of the success of the Jazz Party each year. In celebration of our tenth year, we thank our volunteers who have been with the party since the very beginning.
The event literally couldn’t happen without the entire jazz committee and the more than 60 volunteers who help put the event on each year.
What makes this event special, first and foremost, is the excellent talent assembled by music director Ken Peplowski. Add to that the superb location on the Oregon coast and the fabulous venue of the Newport Performing Arts Center – not to mention the support of local and regional businesses, a local fan base, and a dedicated core of volunteers – it all adds up to a party you don’t want to miss.