Medford Jazz Festival changes name to reflect diversity of genres

After a quarter century, the Medford Jazz Festival is changing its name to the Southern Oregon Music Festival to better reflect how much it has grown and diversified.

Today, the festival runs three days in five different venues and includes rhythm and blues, doo-wop, jump jive, swing, zydeco, rockabilly, funk and many other genres.

It's no longer a good idea to limit the festival's image to jazz, says Executive Director Dennis Ramsden, who is launching the new brand and look this week.

"People will say they don't like jazz or it has no beat, but this is about all kinds of music and all of it is danceable," says Ramsden.

The festival started with a Dixieland base in 1989 but rapidly outgrew it, joining a nationwide chain of such festivals that guarantees one on almost any given weekend.

The Southern Oregon Music Festival will run Oct. 10-12 in a five-block area of downtown Medford and will attract 1,200 at various times, he says. There'll still be some Dixieland and other forms of jazz, Ramsden says. (Correction: The date of this year's festival has been corrected.)

"We'll never give up our roots, of course, but it's time to broaden the appeal and shift the focus," he says. "We're opening the door for us to do more. We'll have blues soon, too."

Some of this fall's lineup gives a snapshot of the array: Dave Bennett & the Memphis Boys performing rockabilly in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Hank Williams; Gator Nation doing zydeco and New Orleans-style R&B; the Lena Prima Band shaking things up a la "That Old Black Magic"; and the Blue Street Jazz Band giving nod to the festival's heritage. (Correction: The lineup has been updated in this story.)

Then there's the High Street Band, which wears zoot suits and plays a montage of music of all decades, mainly by looking at the audience and shooting for the sounds they love, says Gwenne Wilcox, the festival's creative director.

You can see the lineup, hear the acts and buy tickets at

— John Darling

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