PORT TOWNSEND — There’s a whole lot of hugging going on.
Men and women, young and old, white, black and brown: They’re together in music this week at Fort Worden State Park.
Jazz Port Townsend, the combined music camp-club crawl-concert series, got underway Sunday with an orientation for the 206 students. The faculty, some three dozen artists from Seattle, New York City and beyond, took seats on stage — but only after embracing one another, smiling to one another.
Next they introduced themselves to the Jazz Port Townsend campers in the audience: “George Cables, piano.” “Stefon Harris, vibes.” “Terell Stafford, trumpet.” The words came on deep voices, met with lusty applause again and again.
These performers, having shared energy with their students all week, will step onto the stages at Fort Worden for public concerts tonight and Saturday.
A schedule of shows — plus today’s free public workshops, the Free Fridays at the Fort jazz concert and the ticketed Jazz in the Clubs lineup — appears in the Arts & Entertainment section.
“You’ve got these amazing world-class faculty here for you every day. That’s nuts,” said John Clayton, Jazz Port Townsend’s artistic director.
The 2018 camp and festival have attendees age 13 to 83.
They’ve come from 17 states plus Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Japan.
“We’re all at different levels. that’s the beauty of this experience,” said Clayton, writer and arranger of music for Diana Krall, Quincy Jones, George Benson and Dr. John, among others.
For his arrangement of Queen Latifah’s “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die,” on her “Trav’lin’ Light” album, he added a Grammy to his collection.
In Port Townsend, Clayton is all about encouraging his fellow musicians, wherever they walk on that golden path.
“When you make these sounds,” he said, “you attach your soul to them … that’s the power of music.
“You can attach your soul to every note you play, to every note you sing.”
Make music in this way, and “you can affect everybody in the audience. You can do that — right now.”
Smack in the middle of the week, Jazz Port Townsend faculty members gave a concert just for their students. Clayton, fluid from head to feet, played his upright bass as though it spoke from his soul.
And Cables, a festival veteran who underwent surgery in March to amputate his left leg, was in fine fettle at the piano. He danced on the bench, the music pouring from his keyboard like rain, while Jiggs Whigham’s trombone, Jeff Hamilton’s drums, John Clayton’s bass and brother Jeff Clayton’s alto saxophone thundered together.
Saturday night at Fort Worden’s 1,200-seat McCurdy Pavilion, a specially formed band of seven will pay tribute in the “Celebrating George Cables” set in Jazz Port Townsend’s finale concert. These fans include tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield, trombonist Dan Marcus, bassist Chuck Deardorf and vibes man Stefon Harris.
Performers here at Jazz Port Townsend demonstrate, in the most joyous fashion, what it means to interact. They swing as one, then stand back and groove while the drummer solos, then the bassist, then the piano player. They shake their heads, flashing smiles.
Those beams stayed on during Jazzmeia Horn’s set. The vocalist, who opened with “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” bends like a willow as she sings. Beside her, pianist Eric Verlinde grinned as though basking in sunlight.
“She sure touches my soul,” said Clayton, who along with drummer Matt Wilson provided Horn’s rhythm section.
The singer will take the McCurdy Pavilion stage Saturday afternoon to do a set titled “A Social Call.” With pianist Taylor Eigsti, bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Marcus Baylor, it echoes the title of Horn’s latest album.
“A Social Call,” Horn has said, is about talking to one another about social issues affecting us all. The message in this music: “Let’s come together in peace, and be social. You know?”
Terell Stafford, another revered Jazz Port Townsend presence, delivered his own spare set Wednesday evening alongside pianist John Hansen. In “He Knows How Much You Can Bear,” his notes were so full, a listener could almost touch them.
“When things get rough,” Stafford said with a slight nod, “turn to that tune.”
He then offered a jazz classic, “Day Dream,” and dedicated it to John Clayton.
As the audience rose applauding, Stafford laid a hand over his heart.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.