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The festival has a strict policy, allowing vaccinated only, and features national stars and local favorites.

COURTESY PHOTO: PDX JAZZ - Renowned Afrofuturism musician Angel Bat Dawid is joined by Brown Calculus on the Alberta Abbey stage, Feb. 25.Great music returns to Portland venues with the 19th annual PDX Jazz Festival at a time when the world yearns to return to normal after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions.

Only, the organizers of the popular, multi-event show concede that it won't be all normal when the likes of Gary Bartz, Diane Schuur, Makaya McCraven and Angel Bat Dawid take to the Portland stages Feb. 17-26.

Only vaccinated and boosted people will be welcome. Masks will be mandatory.

Organizers are being very cautious, even with the prevalence of breakthrough vaccinated cases spreading the coronavirus.

"We have the strictest policy in all of Portland," said Chris Doss, PDX Jazz executive director said. The festival won't be accepting patrons with negative tests.

"The feedback we've received has been positive, whether it's good fortune or the way the winds are blowing. People responding have been with accolades of thank you. They're happy to know they're going into a safe environment, where they won't have to worry about the person next to them not being vaccinated."

Nicholas Salas-Harris, PDX Jazz artistic director, said it's been mostly "artist-first" decision-making. A lot of jazz musicians are older people, a lot of PDX Jazz Festival fans are older people.

COURTESY PHOTO: TIM COURTNEY - On Feb. 18 at Winningstad Theatre, it's jazz steward and pioneer Diane Schuur."We're in the middle of the fifth (COVID) wave, and we knew this problem was not going away," he said. "We knew we'd have to be aggressive and out front with this."

Added Doss: "It's critical for us to have this policy in place because a lot of artists want this strict of policy. To attract this level of talent, we had to assure them they won't be playing in a room of 300 people and they don't know if they're vaccinated."

So, many people won't be making plans for the PDX Jazz Festival. Last year, the festival went virtual with streamed concerts and more, but it has returned with about 50 artists performing and 11 music venues opening their doors such as Newmark and Winningstad theaters, Star Theater, Alberta Rose Theatre and Jack London Revue.

"The digital experience, while a great option during COVID, is simply just not the live experience," Doss said. "The artists don't enjoy it as much, the audience doesn't enjoy it as much, you lose the community. Part of it is having the audience surrounding you, and musicians feeding off the excitement.

"And, a lot of artists are not allowing livestreaming … they want to get people back out to live shows."

COURTESY PHOTO: PDX JAZZ - Jazz supergroup The Cookers perform at Alberta Rose Theatre, Feb. 22.

Some highlights:

• Bartz, a saxophone player from the Bay Area, has played with Miles Davis and John Coltrane. "He's very much involved in the new movement of jazz, and his music is as relevant as ever," Salas-Harris said. When/where: 7 p.m. Feb. 19, Winningstad; 11 p.m. Feb. 19, Jack London Revue.

• McCraven, a younger drummer from Chicago, "has quickly become a force," Salas-Harris said. "I liken him to Kamasi Washington on sax; he's the Kamasi on drums." When/where: 9 p.m. Feb. 19, 8 p.m. Feb. 20, Star Theater.

• Tickets have sold fast for Brandee Younger and Dezron Douglas. Younger is a jazz harpist, Douglas a bassist. "They're artists taking things in a new direction," Salas-Harris said. When/where: 8 p.m. Feb. 23, The Old Church.

• Burgeoning jazz performer Angel Bat Dawid plays in the Afrofuturism genre, and "is taking it to an interesting and evolving place," Salas-Harris said. When/where: 8 p.m. Feb. 25, Alberta Abbey.

• A young star returns home: Drummer extraordinaire Domo Branch, who's attending music school in New York City, plays PDX Jazz Festival with his new trio (including Gerald Clayton and Ben Feldman). "He's a great young man and an incredible drummer," Salas-Harris said. When/where: 8 p.m. Feb. 25, Star Theater.

• Other notable shows: Schuur, jazz steward and pioneer, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18, Winningstad. … Flor de Toloache, the Grammy Awards-winning all-female mariachi group whose members hail from Latin American, Australia, Europe and the United States, 7 p.m. Feb. 20, Newmark. … The Cookers, a jazz supergroup, 8 p.m. Feb. 22, Alberta Rose Theatre. … Mel Brown, the Portland legend, and his B-3 Organ Group, 8 p.m. Feb. 24, Jack London Revue.

Overall, Salas-Harris said, "It feels like a coming together, a needed celebration of jazz and culture in Portland."

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