History of the South Coast Clambake Jazz Festival

Posted by TravelCoosBay on February 19, 2014

The South Coast Clambake Jazz Festival will be celebrating their 25th year March 14th-16th, 2014 and we thought this would be a great time to explore the history of this very popular music festival.

The original purpose of the festival was to preserve Dixieland music and introduce it to new audiences. Though the festival was launched 25 years ago, it’s origins date many years prior to it’s inception. Dixieland is a style of jazz music that originated in New Orleans and eventually spread to the rest of the country in the early 20th century.

We reached out to festival organizers Les Engle and Marcie Nunnelly, who graciously shared this fascinating background information written by one of the festival founders, Frosty West.  Hope you enjoy!

Clambake Jazz Festival Origins
Written by festival Co-Founder, Frosty West

In order to establish the history of a community activity such as The Southcoast Clambake Jazz Festival, it is necessary to address the series of events that lead to its formation. The end of World War II spawned a revival of traditional jazz on the West Coast that resulted in the proliferation of “Dixieland” style bands.

Bill Borcher, leader of The Oregon Jazz Band and former basketball coach at Marshfield High School and the University of Oregon, assumed an administrative position at a local college in Sacramento, Ca.

In the early 1970’s, Bill and some other jazz enthusiasts formulated the concept of a festival that would be a West Coast version of the New Orleans Mardi Gras which resulted in the Sacramento Jazz Festival.

Bob Downer, banjo and jazz enthusiast, purchased a local favorite nightclub called The Balboa that stood where The Hollering Place in the Empire district now stands. He renamed it The Balboa Bay Club and assembled a group of local “trad” musicians called The Balboa Bay Jazz Band under the leadership of cornet player Frosty West.

During one of his visits to Coos Bay, Bill Borcher heard the band and invited them to the Sacramento festival with a specific condition involved. Since the majority of the west coast bands were from California and the band name invoked California connotations, he requested a name change to reflect Oregon. The word “clambake” was an old jazz term for a jam session, hence The Coos Bay Clambake jazz band was born.

The Clambake was well accepted and received invitations to the majority of west coast festivals, including Vancouver, B.C., during the following years.

In the mid ’80s, several local musicians casually discussed the idea of holding a jazz festival in the Coos Bay-North Bend area. Bob Downer, Ron Carpani and Frosty West, members of The Coos Bay Clambake, started the ball rolling to get the community and interested persons involved.

The purpose was preservation and perpetuation of Dixieland Jazz, our nation’s original music, by showcasing it to the public and introducing it to area youth. Additionally, a festival would add an economic stimulus to our communities at a time when timber and fishing had started to decline.

The second weekend in March was selected because, at that time, there were no events scheduled during the month that would attract visitors to our communities and there were no competing Jazz Festivals on the west coast.

An endeavor of this magnitude relies on a substantial volunteer workforce that was already in place in the form of the Bay Area Traditional Society for Jazz (B.A.T.S. For Jazz) whose membership extended from Brookings to Florence. Members of B.A.T.S. with various organizational skills volunteered their services on the first Board of Directors. Fund raising became a community effort that included The Sawdust Theater, Little Theater On The Bay, The Barbershop Harmony Society and B.A.T.S., It’s About Time Big Band and The Coos Bay Clambake.

Carol Turner, a local artist, vocalist and founding board member, designed our original logo. After two years of fundraising, the first Southcoast Dixieland Clambake Jazz Festival was held in 1988.

Clambake Jazz Festival

Don’t miss out on this unique celebration of music! Click here to get your tickets to the 25th annual South Coast Clambake Jazz Festival today!

All photos are from previous events posted on the Clambake Jazz Festival on Facebook.