Thomas Mackay, left, and Tom Boruff of the Medford Jazz Festival have put together a new jazz scene that benefits musicians and local students.

Howiee's hosts new jazz scene

When jazz artist Thomas Mackay was called on by the Medford Jazz Festival to put together an ongoing jam session at Howiee's, he started cold-calling like-minded musicians in the Rogue Valley.

"I've played with many jazz musicians since moving here from the Midwest five years ago," Mackay says. "Everyone was interested in what could happen with a jazz jam."

Mackay, who plays vibes, hosted the first jam April 9. He was joined by percussionist Kelvin Underwood, upright bassist John Zalabak and guitarist Paul Turnipseed.

"We were playing as the core group," Mackay says. "Now there are about 25 musicians who rotate through the group — bassists David Miller and Bruce McKern, tenor sax player Bud Berlingeri, and drummers Tom Freeman, Theresa McCoy and Tom Stamper, among others."

Mackay, the Medford Jazz Festival and the musicians have come to be known as the Medford Jazz Collective.

"They all love to play jazz," Mackay says. "The sessions are reminiscent of what you'd find in Chicago, Detroit and New York City clubs. You'll hear anything from traditional jazz standards to Charlie Parker-style bebop and quite a few vocalists singing torch songs and ballads."

The Jazz Collective's jams are held from 7 to 10 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month at Howiee's on Front, 16 N. Front St. There is no cover. Call 541-864-0185 for information.

Each jam features a local jazz artist during the first set. Trumpet player Randy Scherer from rock band Soul Food will be showcased on May 28.

So far the collective has put Berlingeri, along with newcomer and steel drum player Tom Berich, center stage. Featured players are posted at www.facebook.com/RogueValleyJazzCollective.

Tom Boruff is director and a board member of the Medford Jazz Festival. The annual festival presents a substantial roster of traditional jazz, R&B, big band, zydeco and other music each October in downtown venues, such as the Red Lion Hotel and Medford Elks Lodge ballrooms. This year, the new music venue at Howiee's will be part of the festival.

"When Howiee's owner David Hawkins learned that the Medford Jazz Festival has supported music education programs for the past 25 years in area high schools and middle schools, he asked if he could provide his venue to help drive awareness of our mission."

A jazz artist himself, Boruff was off and running with the idea, and the Medford Jazz Collective was born.

The Medford Jazz Festival partners with Guitars in the Classroom, a national nonprofit that trains and equips teachers to engage students in creative, musical processes. That partnership and one with Tom's Guitars helps MJF provide scholarships, donations of musical instruments, funds to supplement music teachers, instrument repair and distribution.

"With the first couple of jam sessions at Howiee's, we had acquired a guitar amp, a trombone and a saxophone that we will distribute to students who want to learn to play them," Boruff says. "But the neatest thing is that the collective provides opportunities for local jazz musicians to inspire a new generation of jazz students. We organized a guitar class taught by Michael St. John at Central Medford High School. Without the Jazz Collective, I wouldn't have learned that St. John is able to teach a class like this."

The Jazz Collective is in the process of putting together master classes with musicians from the collective as instructors, teaching students the nuts and bolts of performing live.

"There's an active jazz scene in the Rogue Valley," Mackay says. "Jazz buffs should know that they can come out and listen to music on a regular basis. Myself, I like seeing a line of horn players waiting to get on stage and play. I want everyone out on Tuesday nights listening to the Jazz Collective at Howiee's."

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