Music to pour from clubs beginning tonight as Jazz Port Townsend kicks off 40th year
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George Cables, right, will be honored at a concert Saturday afternoon as part of Jazz Port Townsend, which begins tonight. Also pictured is piano tuner Paul Creech, rear, and artistic director John Clayton. Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Jazz Port Townsend, which begins its public component tonight with club performances all over town, recalls the saying that a man cannot step in the same river twice.

The man changes, the quote states, as does the river.

“It’s different every year,” said John Clayton, who is in his 10th year as artistic director of Centrum’s jazz program.

“You can play with the same people, but if there is a death in the family, they are different people than who they were last year,” he said.

“You end up sharing what has happened to you since last year, and it is funneled into the music.”

Jazz in the Clubs will be from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. today and from 10 p.m. to
1 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The Cellar Door, 940 Water St., is a new venue this year.

Music also is planned at the American Legion Hall, the Key City Public Theatre, The Public House, Manresa Castle, the Marina Room at Point Hudson and the Rose Theatre.

A $25-per-night pass gains admission to all venues.

Nightly passes are available online at or at the clubs’ doors.

Concerts will take place at McCurdy Pavilion in Fort Worden State Park at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Now in its 40th year, Jazz Port Townsend has grown into the largest summer jazz festival in the state and attracts people from all over the world, said Clayton, 61.

“We don’t know what to expect musically. It’s like a getting a package underneath the Christmas tree,” he said.

“You don’t know what’s in there, but you can shake it and guess.”

This year, 230 students are attending workshops led by 37 instructors who are masters of their respective instruments, according to Clayton.

This year’s featured artist is pianist George Cables, who has attended the festival for at least the past 30 years.

“When I first came here, I was one of the young guys. Now I’m one of the old guys,” said Cables, 69.

“We have so many people from so many different places who come here with a common love of music.

“Some of us are advanced, some of us are not so advanced, and there are people in the middle, but there is a common language where we can learn, explore and share with each other,” Cables added.

“We adapt to each other, we respond to each other, and every performance is a little different.”

Cables will be featured in a concert at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, during which his songs will be performed.

Performing with him will be pianists Geoffrey Keezer, Benny Green and Dawn Clement, as well as guitarist Anthony Wilson.

A jazz song isn’t quite the same as a structured pop tune. Jazz performances invite improvisation.

The melody and chord structure from a song by George Gershwin, Cables or any other composer is played once or twice before it is handed back and forth among all the musicians present, stretching out the melody and the chords.

During the performance, musicians communicate with codes and cues to determine what comes next.

Jazz is not limiting, evidenced by Clayton’s evoking both Beethoven and “The Flintstones” during a discussion about interpretation.

“A lot of jazz musicians play the ‘Flintstones’ theme. It’s a great song,” he said. “It has the same chord structure as ‘I Got Rhythm,’ so we are already familiar with the song and can take it to different places.”

Clayton said he didn’t think Beethoven would have wanted everyone to play his symphonies in the same way for all eternity.

“If he were around today, he would have liked to hear what you want to do with it,” he said. “As long as there is respect for the music, he’d want to hear your interpretation.”

Both Clayton and Cables dedicated themselves to jazz at an early age. They provide encouragement to younger musicians, paying back the advice and monitoring they received during their own youth.

Cables recalls being nervous while performing with drummer Art Blakey early in his career.

“We played a gig, and I didn’t do so well,” Cables said. “Afterwards, he told me that I didn’t have to work so hard, that I was a messenger now.”

For more information about Jazz Port Townsend, visit


Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Last modified: July 23. 2014 7:13PM
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