Rita Rega | An Inside Look at the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival Programming
Editor, Ryan Meagher, here again. This week, just a few days before the 2018 Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, we sit down and talk with one of the most important forces behind the CPJF, Rita Rega. I consider Rita a friend of mine, and I was curious about how she programs jazz artists for this illustrious festival.
JazzScene: How many years have you had a hand in programming the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival?
Rita Rega: I was brought into the festival in 2015 by Arthur Marx who was the manager at the time. He was on the Board of Directors of the Jazz Society of Oregon and was instrumental in saving the festival by bringing it to the JSO. He loves this festival and has done everything in his power to keep it going. He is always there on set-up day and is there for the last downbeat. I met Art years ago in the early nineties when I was President of the Jazz Society and he was on the Board.
JS: Besides this year, is there a year from the past that stands out as maybe your most favorite year of programming?
RR: Every year has been incredible. There are moments, however, that are indelibly etched in my memory like Saturday night, July 18, 2015. Maybe it is because it was my first time involved in anything like this or the amazing crowd reaction, but the Hailey Niswanger PDX Soul set that closed the day was impressive. All those arms in the air holding cell phones, crammed in front of the stage, dancers packed in behind them; loving the music delivered by Hailey’s great band that included her teacher Thara Memory who was standing next to her on stage. Another great moment that weekend happened Sunday, July 19, 2015 when the combination of a great voice in front of a great big band took the stage at 5:30 that afternoon. Vocalist Robert Moore gathered Portland’s best to swing behind him in a set I can only describe as jazz nirvana.
JS: Can you tell the readers a little bit about how the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival gets programmed? How do you select artists? Do they pitch you? Do you pitch them? A little bit of both?
RR: First off, the Board of Directors of the Jazz Society of Oregon has the final say on all programming. There are several of us who suggest ideas including board members. In general, when a bandleader is hired, they have complete artistic control. The festival is not in the business of telling an artist what to do. We might have a hand in designing a set like last year when we hired harmonica virtuoso, Joe Powers. We asked him to include in his set a dedication to the great Toots Thielemans who had passed away the previous year. As far as “pitching,” the JSO has an email for musicians to use and a deadline for submissions.
JS: What makes Cathedral Park Jazz Festival different than other jazz and blues festivals in Portland and surrounding areas (PDX Jazz Festival, Waterfront Blues Festival, Vancouver Wine and Jazz Festival, Albina Jazz Festival, Montavilla Jazz Festival, Aurora Colony Vineyards Jazz Festival, etc.).
RR: I can’t speak for those other festivals, but Cathedral Park Jazz Festival is the oldest and is still free. That in itself changes the character of it. I think of it as a gathering of friends in a beautiful setting. It’s still a hidden gem that’s part of the cultural fabric of Portland.
JS: What are some things you have learned along the way?
RR: As a jazz programmer for radio who started thirty-five years ago, I’ve seen lots of changes and learned a few things along the way. One thing I’ve learned is that the music almost always appeals to me on an intellectual level. It’s the stuff that grabs me on an emotional level, that’s what I remember.