The Seaside Jazz Festival is becoming one of the longer-running events in the city’s history.
Originally dubbed the Oregon Dixieland Jubilee, it’s 32 years old and draws nearly 2,000 attendees each February.
Most of those — about 98 percent — are from outside the North Coast, and at least 80 percent are repeat customers, say the festival’s coordinators, Ruth Johnson and Judy Shook.
“There’s quite a friendly group that just meet up at jazz festivals and share what’s happened to them in the last year,” Johnson said.
A sense of return and reunion permeates performers this year as well. Of the 12 groups scheduled for this year’s festival Feb. 19 through 22, 11 have played the festival in years past.
The lone newcomer to the Seaside Jazz Festival is Portland’s Mardi Gras All-Star Band, which is also the only act from the region (with the exception of the Seaside High School jazz band).
Led by drummer and vocalist Gary Smith, the Mardi Gras All-Stars play traditional Dixieland jazz. Another scheduled group, High Sierra, performs a similar brand.
“They’re traditional jazz,” said Johnson of High Sierra. “They play a lot of the Dixieland-style music, and they’re very good at it. Most of the traditional bands have seven members. They have piano, banjo, tuba, a reed-man, trumpet, trombone and drums.”
So, too, are acts at the Seaside Jazz Festival whose inspiration comes from outside the traditional sphere of early jazz (although only by a few decades — nothing here is sourced from the 21st century).
“Tom Ridney does some blues,” said Johnson. “His band will also play a waltz. He does Cajun, zydeco. He plays an electric fiddle. His band is only five members. There’s guitar, bass and a piano player — and she’s a boogie-woogie champion on the piano.”
Johnson highlighted Dave Bennett and the Memphis Speed Kings as another group performing outside the purview of traditional jazz.
“Dave Bennett is just an awesome young man,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen him playing in jazz bands since he was about 13 years old. He played the clarinet.”
“But he not only plays the clarinet,” added Johnson. “He reinvented himself as an old-time fan of Jerry Lee Lewis. So when he’s playing with the Memphis Speed Kings, they do Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley. And he plays the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s rock and roll!”
Bennett and the Memphis Speed Kings kick off the weekend with a special event Thursday evening at the Elks Lodge.
The festival begins in earnest Friday, with concerts scheduled concurrently on five stages — three at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center, plus the Shilo Inn Oceanfront and the Elks Lodge.
All but one of the venues will be prepared specifically with dancers in mind.
“Four of our five venues have dance floors, and we bring in wooden floors,” said Johnson. “We don’t ask people to dance on concrete all weekend.”
“There are young people, and they just dance all day long,” added Shook. “Some of them have a favorite band they follow from place to place.”
Aside from bands simply performing their regular material, a few special sets are planned.
“Saturday, we have three bass saxes playing at the same time,” said Johnson. “That is an awesome sound. If you know what a bass sax looks like or sounds like, you really should show up for that set. That’s my favorite set.”
Uptown Lowdown will be playing, she added. “They have two band members who play the bass sax, and Peter Meyers will join them; he’s the reed player for High Sierra.”
Saturday is the big day, packed across the board, with 45 shows spread across five venues from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The festival’s closing show, at 3 p.m. Sunday, will present a smorgasbord of short performances.
“We will bring a band on that will play two or three songs, and then they’ll rotate off and another band rotates on,” said Johnson. “We will rotate about five bands through just as a way of saying ‘goodbye and see you next year!’”
The Seaside High School jazz band will also play in the “closing” this year.
“It gives them an opportunity to play in the big room at the convention center,” said Johnson. “So that’ll be kind of fun.”
Indeed, Johnson and Shook — along with the rest of the many volunteers that comprise the Lighthouse Jazz Society — enjoy spotlighting Seaside, whether it be by hosting old friends, welcoming the high school band or boosting tourism during the wet winter months.
“The reason why I do this is because I think it’s a great event for Seaside,” Johnson said. “I just like to see people having a good time. And when I go to other jazz festivals and I say that I’m from Seaside it’s just nice to hear, ‘Seaside! That’s our favorite festival!’ That’s why I keep doing it. I like to see people having a good time, and I like to make people happy.”
If you go:
What: Seaside Jazz Festival
When: Feb. 19 through 22
Where: Seaside Civic and Convention Center, Shilo Inn Oceanfront, Elks Lodge (shuttle bus provided)
Cost: $10 to $95
For information: 1-866-345-6257; www.jazzseaside.com