By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“In the jazz world, we don't exclude people,” said John Clayton, who is in his sixth year as the festival's artistic director.
“We encourage younger artists and tell them if they develop their art, the opportunities will come.”
Some 250 jazz musicians from across the continent are in town this week for the festival, presented by the nonprofit Centrum Foundation.
The instructional component of the 37th annual festival began Sunday. Jazz in the Clubs — public concerts in seven local venues in Port Townsend — begins the first of three nights tonight, though tonight's performances at the Public House, the American Legion hall and Northwest Maritime Center were reported to be sold out.
Tickets still were available Wednesday for performances Friday and Saturday at those venues as well as at Castle Key, Rose Theatre, Khu Larb and Key City Theatre.
Also available Wednesday were tickets to the McCurdy Pavilion concerts, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Clayton, 60, began as a bass player in his teens, and he credits established musicians for helping him find his footing.
“Thank goodness for me that people like Count Basie, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis and Bud Shank didn't tell me to go off and study my instrument and come back when I got it right,” Clayton said of the luminaries he played with as a youth.
“They saw that I was interested, dedicated and serious, and said, 'Come on. Let's go.'”
As artistic director, Clayton has noticed an increase in the skill and dedication of younger musicians.
“The levels have changed,” he said. “The attitude has changed. The participants know what it's like to be part of the music.”
As a festival director, he said, “I am always looking for new faces. We all love Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea, but we don't want to be calling on them all the time.”
Anat Cohen, an Israeli clarinetist who is part of this year's faculty, enjoys the festival.
“Centrum is cool because it is removed from everything, and you are next to nature,” she said.
“There is a lot of energy between the musicians, and you get to meet and play with some of the top jazz musicians in the world,” she said.
“You can talk to them 24/7 about how to grow as a musician.
“They don't spare any details, both the bad and the good, and the students get the reassurance that they have made the right choice,” Cohen said.
Cohen finds the most inspiration from the music of New Orleans — sounds that spoke to her half a world away from its origins.
“The feeling of swing grabbed us right off the bat,” said Cohen, whose two brothers also are musicians.
“Jazz is about freedom,” she said. “Even if you are the band leader, you don't tell people what to play.
“You play the melody and then pass it along, and you don't know if that person will play a 30-minute solo or a 15-minute solo.
“I could cut in and get them to stop but usually won't do that,” she added.
“If I don't like their musical personality, I just won't hire them again.”
Cohen, who is in her 30s, said she was immediately comfortable with the clarinet when she first picked it up at age 12.
“It let me be who I am,” she said.
“I can play music and not worry about how to play or the technical part. The music goes from my heart to the people with no obstacles.”
Jazz musicians and audiences thrive on variety, Clayton said.
“You don't want to go see your favorite saxophonist play a song that you love in the same way as you heard on the record, whereas in the pop world, you want to be able to sing along with a chorus the way that it's done on the record,” he said.
“Jazz lovers are the type of people who will go to a restaurant and say, 'This is an interesting dish, I'd like to try it,' as opposed to someone who wants to order a hamburger at McDonald's because they know exactly what it's going to taste like.”
For more details, visit www.centrum.org or phone 360-385-3102.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.