Preview by JSO Staff, July 2021

This weekend brings the return of a Portland tradition: the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, live and in-person. With fair weather on the forecast, the event is shaping up to be a multi-faceted celebration of the Portland music scene, with plenty of classic jazz and lots of blues, soul, and more rounding out the lineup. Taking place as always at Cathedral Park under the St. Johns Bridge, this festival has been a FREE community event since its inception 41 years ago.

We are supported by generous sponsors and volunteers, but the Jazz Society of Oregon must raise money to support this event and year-round jazz events. If you can afford to make a donation, please hit that red DONATE button at the top of your screen!

How to Festival from our Professional Party Moms:

  • There are way more people living in St. Johns than there used to be and our festival causes congestion. If you’re attending from outside of the neighborhood, please consider using public transportation. If you are parking in St. Johns, please be considerate of the people who live in the neighborhood. Speaking of being considerate, let’s show the world how it’s done. We sure hope you’re vaccinated, but either way you’re encouraged to wear a mask upon entry and exit and in crowded vendor areas to protect the most vulnerable among us. No big deal. No whining. 
  • Since we’re on a roll here, NO DOGS. Yes, we know yours is a good one, but it’s just too much fuss and our insurance provider won’t allow it. Also, this is not the time to try out your drone piloting skills. Just, NO.
  • File this one under how not to be ding dong. NO HIGH-BACKS. No one attending a concert wants to look at your back, no matter how much you’ve been working out. For the love of music and your fellow man, leave the Adirondack chairs at home.
  • Feel free to sit down low and even pack some snacks. BUT, NO BYO ALCOHOL. You may purchase alcohol in our beer garden.
  • We encourage you to splurge on delicious eats from Chelo, Porter’s Catering, Spice of Africa, Urban German, Fuego, Two Wahines and Wholesome!
  • Also, it’s probably been a while since you’ve seen so many people and so many people have seen you. Might as well clean up and throw on something fancy! 
  • We’ve all been through a lot since we were last in the park together. Let’s make this a celebration for the ages.

Now for a preview of the lineup:

Friday July 16

As in past years, Friday is all about the blues. Veteran blues singer Steve Cheseborough kicks things off at 4:30 with a set of harmonica-heavy songs and stories. Then, two prominent women in the Portland blues scene, Sonny Hess and Lady Kat, team up for a project called “Smokin’ True Blue.” Hess is a searing blues guitarist and co-owner of the Blue Diamond club on NE Sandy Blvd, and Lady Kat’s singing has often been compared to that of Etta James. At 7:30, saxophonist and vocalist Fenix Sanders takes the stage with his band Fenix Rising. Sanders is a regular at the Blue Diamond, where he has played every Wednesday for years. Closing the night will be Lloyd Jones and the Atlas Horns, playing brassy and swampy renditions of music from Jones’s new record Tennessee Run, which was released in 2020. In our review of Jones’s record, we praised its “ gritty and groovy takes on blues and soul.”


Saturday July 17

Saturday offers a truly wide-ranging lineup that promises to explore nearly every possibility of what jazz can be. The day kicks off at 1pm with a student ensemble from Portland State University called the Collective Combo, which will feature student vocalists and instrumentalists. Then, at 2:30, drummer Michael Raynor and his quartet take the stage; Raynor is a veteran of the Chicago scene who has played with Von Freeman and Kurt Elling and been featured on several critically acclaimed recordings. Next, pianist Andrew Oliver takes audiences back in time with a set of 1930s jazz with saxophonist David Evans and drummer Tyson Stubelek. In our interview with Oliver, he advised us to expect “swing, in the style of the Lester Young trio or the Jelly Roll Morton trio.” At 5:30, Virginia López and her Melao de Cuba ensemble will play a collection of traditional Cuban son music alongside takes on Afro-Cuban jazz classics like “Afro Blue.” In our interview, López told us that “Jazz is truly American music. It's the place where all of us, no matter where we come from, are putting our two cents in it.” Then, at 7, the experimental beatmaking duo Korgy and Bass will take the stage, presenting music from their collaboration with trumpeter Cyrus Nabipoor. Their heavily electronic music is a far cry from straight-ahead jazz, but the band’s drummer Barra Brown explained to us that they approach their music from a similar place. “What we want to do is live improvise beats,” he said, “and be improvising within the context of making beats and loops as opposed to playing jazz heads.” Finally, breakout Portland singer/pianist Jarrod Lawson closes things out at 8:30. Channeling the likes of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, Lawson is fresh off the release of an album called Be the Change, which JazzScene applauded for its “societally engaged lyrics wrapped in enjoyable, nuanced pop tunes.”


Sunday July 18

Sunday at the festival will begin with another student ensemble, the Jake Khawaja trio featuring Khawadja on piano, Michael Rodenkirch on drums, and instructor Ben Medler on bass. The trio are representing Medler’s long-running Portland Youth Jazz Orchestra. Following their performance, at 2:30, Tony Pacini takes the stage for what promises to be a hard-swinging set of piano jazz. Pacini is no stranger to Portland jazz audiences, and he’ll be joined by his long-running trio-mates Ed Bennett on bass and Tim Rap on drums. At 4pm, audiences will be treated to the sounds of legendary Portland drummer and jam-session host Ron Steen and his trio. This time, Steen will be backing vocalist Julianne Johnson, who has taught at Portland Community College for years in addition to being a veteran of the musical theater world. At 5:30, the festival will pay tribute to the recently departed piano legend Chick Corea with a program called “500 Miles High,” led by multi-hyphenate pianist Ramsey Embick. In our interview with Embick, he told audiences to expect a little bit of everything. “I wanted to touch on stuff from almost every era,” he said. “We’re playing some really early stuff, stuff from the first record, stuff from the second record. We're going to do some of the Brazilian stuff.” Finally, the 2021 Cathedral Park Festival closes out with a dance party courtesy of Soul Vaccination. “It's really great to have the jazz festival call us up,” saxophonist Gary Harris told us. Soul Vax has been working on original material during the pandemic, which audiences can hope to hear sprinkled in with hits from Tower of Power and other funk and soul greats. 

Click here for exact set times and more information.