The sagging economy has led the Portland Jazz Festival to cancel one of the major concerts of its final weekend. Artistic director Bill Royston announced that for the first time in his 32-year-career as a jazz impresario he was pulling the plug on a primary event. Advance sales to a Friday night concert by singer Cassandra Wilson and pianist Jason Moran amounted to about 400 seats in a 3000-seat hall in downtown Portland. Royston called the cancellation “an arduous decision.”
Despite difficult economic times, Royston said, overall attendance at the two-week festival so far has been down only twelve percent compared with the 2008 festival. Tickets for the Wilson-Moran concert lagged despite Ms. Wilson having won a Grammy award last week. Royston said that other weekend concerts will go on. Among the headliners are Bobby Hutcherson, Lou Donaldson, Aaron Parks, Pat Martino, Jane Bunnett and Kurt Elling.
Last weekend, it seemed that, except for a few empty rows in the backs of the halls, the concerts were well attended. Portland’s weather, which can be rainy at this time of year, was cold and dry, making for exhilarating trips through downtown between concert halls, clubs and restaurants. Since I last attended the Portland festival in 2007, it has made a significant improvement in the way it presents music. The prime-time evening concerts now take place not in hotel ballrooms with boomy acoustics and frustrating sight lines, but in performance halls designed for satisfying aural and visual experiences.
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