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New image for jazz festival

Psst. The Medford Jazz Festival is not about Dixieland anymore — or really about jazz — although both still are included in the fun and venerable 23-year-old event.

The festival is really about all kinds of music, from blues, rockabilly and 1950s rock to Western swing, zydeco and jump jive, with lots of dancing thrown in.

About half the people who attend the festival, held at three spots in downtown Medford with food and full bars, have been out-of-towners. That suggests to organizers that locals have a "perception problem" that the event is still about straw hats and Dixieland, as it was in the beginning, said festival director Dennis Ramsden.

"We've got to pick up the younger people," he notes. "It should be called a music festival, not a jazz festival. Too many people say, 'I don't like jazz,' and they don't come. I was like that for 10 years. I had no idea what it was and how much fun it is."

The festival's motto now is, "If you don't go, you'll never know," says Ramsden, adding he'd like to see audiences in which half the people are under 60 and half over.

The Medford Jazz Festival is a nonprofit organization that benefits music education in Medford schools. Two of the bands, Wally's Warehouse Waifs and Sister Swing, this week are visiting 32 elementary schools in the area, teaching 15,000 students about music inspired by American culture.

Two groups in the festival are from the Rogue Valley: the Southern Oregon Jazz Orchestra, with swing, Latin and big-band sounds of the past; and the Mixers, a swing, jazz and West Coast jump blues band with sounds of the 1940s and 1950s but with "the revved-up attitude of today."

"The festival is all kinds of music under the umbrella of jazz," says Mark Stever of the Southern Oregon Jazz Orchestra. "We play a little jazz. It's music you can dance to, not the jazz you think of with every musician doing his own thing. Ours has more of an edge. It's jump blues, not the low-down, dirty blues. The average person should go to the festival because it's all genres."

This year's festival will include 14 bands, plus a number of dance options. Drew and Catherina from Eugene will teach the new rage, Lindy Hop, revived from the 1920s. Russ Bruner and Susan Kane from Portland will teach Lindy Hop, Charleston and Balboa styles.

Gator Beat, from the San Francisco Bay Area, will perform during the 23rd annual Medford Jazz Festival this weekend. - submitted photo