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Storied downtown Eugene jazz club looks to its next chapter

Recently, Ted Ledgard, president of the Jazz Station in Eugene, was catching a show at a jazz venue in the Lower East Side of Manhattan when he got to talking with one of the patrons of the club. He asked Ledgard where he was from. Hearing his response, the man’s eyes lit up. “Hey, do you know about that jazz club there in Eugene?” he asked eagerly. “It’s called the Jazz Station.” Players he’d met who come through New York had played at the Jazz Station and spoken highly of the experience, he said.

But while jazz insiders may understand that Eugene’s Jazz Station is a nationally recognized jazz venue, the focal point of the local jazz scene, and a supporter of students of jazz from high school through graduate school, not enough Oregon music lovers appreciate one of the Northwest’s finest jazz clubs. Now, the thirteen-year-old nonprofit organization is looking to change that. This Thursday, October 4, the Station hosts a Jazz Rent Party fundraising event, open to the public by RSVP. With its lease expiring in November, the organization is raising funds — for a possible relocation, for expanding public awareness and exposure, and for sustaining its successful model of venue management. After that, the Station’s fall season offers local jazz lovers a cornucopia of events. As we’ll see shortly, recent performances there demonstrate the club’s value to Oregon’s musical culture.

Opened by the Willamette Jazz Society (founders Nancy Hamilton, John Crider, Chris Orsinger, Rich Platz) in 2005, the Jazz Station started out as a cramped shoe box of a rehearsal studio at 68 West Broadway at the heart of downtown Eugene. Gradually, the public started showing up to regularly planned shows, pro jams, and instructional jams. The growth of the club’s audience and membership necessitated a move, in 2011, to its current larger space at 124 West Broadway largely renovated by volunteers Rob Sposato and Fred Wesley. As a testament to the Station’s commitment to the local scene, hometown honey saxophonist Joe Manis and his trio played the first concert.

Originally operating Thursday through Saturday nights, the Station’s programming has expanded to include:

  • First Monday Big Band, a pro rehearsal band, led by the University of Oregon’s Steve Owen, whose second set is open to student performers;
  • a once-a-month High School Jazz Band Concert Series produced by Jazz Station board member, educator, and flutist Jim Olsen;
  • an every-other-Wednesday Pro Jam sponsored by Sundance Market;
  • a Portland Artist Concert Series sponsored by Roaring Rapids Pizza of Springfield;
  • regular concerts by the University of Oregon Jazz Studies Department’s ensembles, students, and faculty.

All the tasks of keeping such a venue running smoothly are handled by a core group of about two dozen dedicated volunteers: door person, bar person (they offer local craft beers, ciders, and wine during performances), concert manager, cleanup, maintenance, bookkeeping, artist booking, and more.

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