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A swing, stomp and jump fest

The Medford Jazz Festival swings into town this weekend with 14 national bands playing music in five ballrooms. Festival highlights include jazz singer Lena Prima — daughter of King of Swing Louis Prima — along with fiddler Tom Rigney and his band, Flambeau, from Berkeley, Calif., Cornet Chop Suey from St. Louis and the horn-driven Gator Beat — Sonoma, Calif.'s answer to a beat that bites — among others.

"It's all about the beat, and it's all about dancing," says Dennis Ramsden, festival vice president. "We have a lineup of hot bands, dance instructors and dance exhibitions."

The 24th annual event has grown from its traditional Dixieland roots to such rockin' jazz styles as zydeco, Cajun, R&B, swing and doo-wop.

"It's truly a musical event for all ages," Ramsden states in an article by Frank Grace for the September issue of The American Rag magazine.

The Midiri Brothers Band of New Jersey, with Joe Midiri on saxophone and clarinet and Paul Midiri on vibraphone and trombone, will jump-start the festival at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, in the Petite Ballroom at the Red Lion Hotel, 200 N. Riverside Ave. Music and dancing will continue through Sunday, Oct. 14, in the Red Lion Hotel's Petite and Grand ballrooms, the Esquire Room at the Medford Elks Lodge, 202 N. Central Ave., and Kids Unlimited, 821 N. Riverside Ave.

Festival finales will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Red Lion ballroom and Kids Unlimited dance pavilion. See www.medfordjazz.org for a comprehensive schedule of music, maps and information about the performers.

Tickets cost $30 for Friday's shows, $50 for Saturday's shows and $25 for Sunday's shows. A prime-time ticket for Friday and Saturday nights' shows costs $25, and all-event badges cost $75 apiece, $20 for ages 12 through 23. Kids 11 and younger get in free. Tickets are available at the Red Lion and www.medfordjazz.org or by calling 541-770-6972.

This year, Lena Prima is the festival's biggest coup, according to Ramsden.

"Louis Prima's music goes back to the '30s, and Lena's shows are tributes to him."

Louis Prima wrote swing classics "Sing, Sing, Sing" and "A Sunday Kind of Love," along with hits "Pennies From Heaven," "That Old Black Magic" and "Jump Jive an' Wail," a song that was revived by Brian Setzer. Many also will remember Prima's role in Walt Disney's "The Jungle Book," as the raucous orangutan King Louie. He performed the hit song "I Wanna Be Like You" on the soundtrack.

Lena Prima pays homage to her late father in her regular shows as the headliner at Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans' French Quarter. Also an accomplished songwriter, Prima was recognized for the best jazz song of 2010, "Silly in the Middle," by the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.

Opportunities for dancing abound at this year's festival.

"Ballroom dancing is big in America," Ramsden says. "Anyone who's seen ABC's 'Dancing With the Stars' will tell you."

To that end, the festival will offer free dance instruction at Kids Unlimited to anyone with an all-event badge. Visitors can learn East Coast or West Coast swing to whirl to the sounds of The Young Bucs, Vince Bartels' Best of Swing or Bob Draga's Clarinet Clambake — or learn the Cajun waltz and strut to Rigney's roots music or jump band Stompy Jones.

Anyone can dance, even without a partner: Dance hosts will be available at all shows set for Kids Unlimited.

Visitors also can look for music by Blue Street Jazz Band, Blue Renditions, High Sierra, High Street Band, Oregon Coast Lab Band and Sister Swing.

Tom Rigney and his band Flambeau will bring their Cajun and zydeco roots music to the Medford Jazz Festival. - Photo courtesy of ComNet Marketing