Cathedral Park Jazz Festival

Cathedral Park Jazz Festival is not my creation. In fact, it is older than myself, and it was faithfully staged year after year since 1980. It is a three-day single-stage, family friendly jazz concert inside the amphitheater of Cathedral Park in Portland, Oregon.

Our tagline boasted, “The longest running free jazz festival west of the Mississippi.” It wasn’t “free jazz” in the styling, it meant no cost. The interesting thing is that I was a “free jazz” musician, and I had the opportunity to curate a large west coast festival. Very cool opportunity.

I was asked to take it over in 2012. The reason seems like equal parts happenstance and divine intervention. In the previous four years, I had been running the annual multi-stage event called No.Fest, and I had incorporated as a 501c(3) called InterArts. I was President of the only non-profit within this North Portland community that was positioned to absorb the festival. And I was the only character in town willing to stage the whole thing on short notice.

Short notice was my training, however, because I managed to round up a four-stage 21-act festival while in college full-time, between April and June of 2008. That event became No.Fest. We had no money, no sponsors, no organization, it was a pure anarchistic cooperative event.

Article pictured from The Oregonian June 2012.

Cathedral Park Jazz felt like the same challenge all over again. There was no money, only a storage locker full of archives. As I split from No.Fest and my former partner took it back to its anarchistic roots, I sought out almost a totally new team. I found musicians Paul Evans and Mary-Sue Tobin, and they brought their own connections to the table, building a powerful committee just crazy enough to rock this thing.

For 2012, there was only one goal: To keep it alive. I examined the balance sheets over the years. At its peak, the festival brought in $25,000 total. However, revenues declined year over year to less than $15,000 in 2011. Given that No.Fest raised just a fifth of that, I was more than pleased to work within that budget. Of course, I had to raise capital. When all was said and done in 2012, we brought in $23,000.

Myself with staff on the last day of CPJazz 2013.

For 2013, I wanted to raise more money and expand the programming. To bring this festival from the park onto main street, this was something that the community sorely wanted. Because No.Fest was such a solid main street event, the community expected me to deliver for them. 

We won two substantial grants in 2013, from Regional Arts and Culture Council and Multnomah County Cultural Coalition. This funding secured all the artist fees. They enabled me to extend the festival from sunset to midnight by utilizing the St. Johns night clubs that were previously ignored when the five hundred or so daily audience members fled the neighborhood.

I went so far as to book a venue called The Colony, whose brand new event space enabled daily musical workshops, a movie screening series, and one finale concert. The main stage reached beyond Portland’s jazz scene, flying Eri Yamamoto from New York City. We had regional headliners and national touring acts routing through.

Given the ambitious scope that I had for it, while at the same time building out The Point (the office and event space in the neighborhood) it was on the whole a successful year. All of the events were carried out to a reasonable standard. At the end of 2013, we had raised and spent over $32,000.

This was easily the most professional, advanced position I had ever found myself. And yet I was tired. I was done. The whole story is full of drama and stress. At the end of the year, I transferred all festival assets over to Jazz Society of Oregon, dissolving InterArts.

There will be a memoire post dealing with my festival years. As a portfolio piece, I focus on the content, the end result. Please enjoy some of these highlights from my personal archive.

Download the complete program guide for 2013.

Download the complete program guide for 2012.

Art by Ruby Kapka, 2013 Official Poster
Art by Mel Rau, Official 2012 Poster
Listen to Go By Train perform Radiohead’s “High and Dry.” Recorded in 2012.
Photo by Scott Mayoral (2012)
Backstage Passes from both years that I was involved.
Norman Sylvester headlining blues night in 2013.