Jazz Port Townsend


Artistic Director John Clayton helps a student practice. Photo by Jim Levitt

July 24-30
Centrum at Fort Worden State Park
223 Battery Way
Port Townsend


Since taking on the role of artistic director for Jazz Port Townsend, the annual festival that has been a fixture of the Northwest jazz calendar for over 40 years, bassist/composer John Clayton has kept one simple goal in mind. “It’s always to keep people in their comfort zone and push them a little bit,” he said. “I’m that way with the music I play and write. I want it to feel good in terms of my soul, but I also want it to challenge me and stretch me a little bit.” 

From the looks of the schedule, a weekend-long series of concerts and workshops, Clayton is striking that balance perfectly. The lineup for this 2023 edition of Jazz Port Townsend features top-tier talent from around the U.S. who will be on hand to perform on the main stage at McCurdy Pavilion or one of the many venues situated around Fort Worden State Park, and to guide budding talent through coaching, jam sessions and more. 

When it comes to the workshops, which run from July 24 through July 30, the goal isn’t so much to teach musicians simple things like how to hold their instrument or play scales. The hope is to help them better understand or hone the skills needed to be both great improvisers and great bandmates. “The cool thing is that there is no age limit,” Clayton says. “If they want to enter as a beginner or, as we call it, a semi-pro, or as an intermediate, we can help put them in a combo of like-leveled musicians.”

Perhaps the most recognizable name among the long list of performers and faculty is Tia Fuller, a Grammy-nominated saxophonist who was a member of Beyoncé’s all-female touring band in 2006 and was featured on the soundtrack to the Pixar film Soul. “I’ve known her since her high school days,” says Clayton, “but to watch her incredible trajectory from being a wonderful jazz musician to being in Beyoncé’s band and now being [a professor] at Berklee School of Music is amazing.” Fuller will be joined by Clayton, trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist George Cables, and drummer Lewis Nash on the mainstage on Saturday, July 29. 

Also scheduled to perform this year are high-caliber players like Latin Grammy-winning saxophonist David Sánchez, bassist Marlon Martinez, vocalists René Marie and Sachal Vasandani, drummer Obed Calvaire, and organist Matthew Whitaker

For the Seattle jazz community, the must-see performance of the weekend will be Saturday’s tribute to Chuck Deardorf, the bassist and former jazz director at Cornish College of the Arts who passed away in October 2022 at the age of 68. Deardorf was a fixture at Jazz Port Townsend and Clayton is going to be honoring his friend with an original composition that he promises will be a “bass blowout.” 

“He was such a marvelous player and pedagogue,” Clayton said, “and he was a good friend to so many. I can think of thousands of people that that man touched in terms of helping them with their music. He was pretty remarkable.” 

The same can be said of Clayton and everyone involved at Jazz Port Townsend. The organization’s educational efforts have helped mold numerous generations of players, honing their skills as composers and collaborators. 

“No matter where I travel when I’m touring, I run into people that say, ‘Hey, I gotta tell you that that week at Centrum really changed my life,’” said Clayton. “And the people whose concerts I’m going to and whose recordings I buy are those now older people who have experienced Centrum. That’s a constant happy story.”


Posted on

June 26, 2023