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Two chances to hear New West

John Storie was lucky enough to go to one of Britt's first jazz camps in the summer of 1999. The camps have since become a mainstay in the Britt Institute's season.

The Britt Institute is Britt's educational arm. Since 1985 it has been providing music education programs to people of all ages and skill levels.

"What was awesome was having all these high school guys who were into jazz," Storie remembers. "Some of 'em were down from Eugene. To spend a week was great."

In those days Storie was a jazz-obsessed Medford teen hanging out at Musician's Friend and playing, and listening to jazz guitar legends like Wes Montgomery and George Benson.

These days he's one of the principals — along with Perry Smith and Brady Cohan — in New West, a Los Angeles-based guitar ensemble that's touring the West Coast.

New West plans performances at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, July 5, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Green Show on the bricks, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland.

The shows typically last half an hour and take place prior to the scheduled outdoor plays at the festival.

The band also will play at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 7, at Eden Valley Orchard, 2310 Voorhies Road, Medford. The concert is part of "Britt Institute in the Gardens," a collaboration between the winery and the Britt Festivals.

The concerts aim to bring a mix of jazz, classical and other music on various Tuesday evenings throughout the summer.

In a phone interview from Seattle's Pike Place Market, where he says he's having a bowl of chowder, Storie says the band has been doing West Coast tours for about five years.

"And every year I try to hook up with something in Southern Oregon," he says. "Last year it was the Siskiyou Institute. I have so many friends in Medford."

The band's original music mixes a jazz foundation with elements of blues, rock and folk. Originally a quartet, band members met at the University of Southern California, where all were guitar majors taking a guitar ensemble class.

"USC has a strong classical program, but also studio music," Storie says. "It kind of clicked."

New West collaborated with USC to become the first group to receive the Thornton Protégé Grant, a coveted award.

The Los Angeles Sister Cities Committee named the group the city's musical ambassadors, and performed in that role at the 2005 World Exposition in Nagoya, Japan, and the 2007 German-American Volksfest in Berlin, Germany.

They also played the Montreal Jazz Festival.

New West combines acoustic and electric guitars. Storie alone plays several of each. The band has just released its third studio album, "Sleeping Lady," showcasing acoustic guitars built by master-luthier Jeff Traugott and featuring singer Gretchen Parlato (see newwestguitar.com).

These days Storie does a lot of teaching and freelance gigs when the band isn't touring. The band will be playing for a guitar society in Seattle, then working its way south.

Storie says the band is playing 15 or 20 tunes on the tour, almost everything original. He describes the sound as "a jazz group with Americana, folk, blues and rock, all on guitars."

Five years from now he hopes for the band will have expanded the sound of the guitar.

"Find new ways of doing old things," he says. "See how we fit in the picture."

The performance at the Green Show is free.

The Eden Valley Orchard concert is $10. See brittfest.org or call 690-3852.

Two chances to hear New West