Medford Jazz Jubilee

The Medford Jazz Jubilee will swing into town Friday afternoon for the 21st time. Fourteen bands will play more than 100 shows in three days in five downtown venues, and dancers will have a brand new place to boogie. And it's all despite a bit of downsizing.

A special 30-by-50 foot dance floor will be set up in the main arena at the Medford Armory for dancers, and plenty of seating will be available for wallflowers. For hard-core dancers, there will be contests in waltz (5:15 p.m. Friday), salsa (11:15 p.m. Saturday) and swing (3:45 p.m. Saturday and 1:15 p.m. Sunday). For those eager to learn, there will be free lessons.

"The dancing was so successful at Studio C last year we thought we'd expand it," Jubilee President Dennis Ramsden says. "We're advertising this at bars, dance studios, whatever."

There will continue to be dancing in all the other venues as well.

The Jubilee began 21 years ago as a Dixieland festival and has evolved to include jump jive, fox trot, swing, Zydeco and — this year for the first time — salsa. In fact, the 2009 program is down to just two Dixieland bands.

"You're making an effort to get younger people," Ramsden says. "We can't make it the way it started 20 years ago."

In other changes, four bands have been dropped from the roster, and the Ramada Inn and the Ginger Rogers Craterian Theater are not returning as venues.

"Basically, we're doing what every other festival is doing," Ramsden says of the cutbacks.

Attendance held firm last year at about 3,000, he says. Ticket sales so far have been about the same as 2008 sales. But some high-profile sponsors have dropped the event, and caution is in the air.

"We weren't taking chances," Ramsden says. "We're a nonprofit, and we've lost some sponsors. We don't want to lose the Jubilee."

The Armory holds about 2,500. About 50 percent of the Jubilee crowd is local. Many of the others travel a circuit, attending festivals in Sacramento and Redding, Calif., and elsewhere.

Ashland-based Salsa Brava is the first salsa band to play the Jubilee and one of the few local acts in this year's event. It is a 10-piece Afro-Cuban band specializing in Latin rhythms, layered percussion, horns and vocals.

There will be free dance lessons at the Armory for everybody who buys a ticket to the Jubilee. Instructors from dance studios around the valley will be offering lessons every hour, often keyed to the band that's coming up next in the arena.

For example, you can take a quick salsa lesson at 1:40 p.m. Saturday, then go out and dance to Salsa Brava at 2. In addition, there will be dance exhibitions by experts during the 20 minutes between sets.

"You can take a lesson and bust a move," Ramsden says.

An all-event pass for dance lessons alone for all three days is $50.

Other venues are the Red Lion Ballroom, the Red Lion downstairs, KOBI-TV Studio C and the Elks Lodge Esquire Room, all downtown. A free shuttle service will move partyers around, with many of the buses donated by area retirement homes.

As always, the Jubilee has an education mission. Wally's Warehouse Waifs, a traditional jazz band, will perform for some 8,000 students in area schools. The Jubilee has donated more than $130,000 to Medford schools over the years.

Tom Rigney, the electrifying violinist of the Sundogs and now the leader of Flambeau, recently told the crowd at a jazz festival in Eureka, Calif., to take friends to the shows and even become sponsors.

"Because if you lose this, you'll never get it back," he said.

Ramsden says that applies to jazz festivals everywhere.

The Jubilee is a family event, open to all ages. Children 11 and under get in free, and students 12 to 23 play $10 for the entire weekend.

"You don't even need a sitter," Ramsden says.

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