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Photo by Jason Kaplan
Photo by Jason Kaplan

Bill Royston, Founder of Portland Jazz Festival passed away on Thursday 10/14/21

After a long-illness, Bill Royston who founded the Portland Jazz Festival passed away at age 75. Read the wonderful stories he did for OMN after a baffling recovery from dementia. He passed holding his wife Kate's hand and listening to Jazz.

Bill Royston, strong-willed, controversial founder of the Portland Jazz Festival, always armed with prodigious taste in and understanding of music passed away on Friday, October 15, 2021. He had COPD/asthma and three heart attacks over the past years.

He retired from the Jazz Festival, which he had built from scratch into an internationally recognized event, in 2011 due to dementia.

At the time of his retirement, the festival was known for it's daring, forward-looking music, with an international view of the now and the future. And the man knew how to hang.

Early in 2020 I discovered a story he wrote online. When I contacted him he wrote:

The doctors concur that my dementia is gone, but disagree with me as to why. They admit that they don't know. Their medicine made all my teeth fall out, left me with insufferable insomnia, made me lose a lot of weight, and generally has me frail. I hate that word frail! My medicine of six doses of high THC cannabis daily has eliminated many of the symptoms from the 2011 diagnosis and given me some energy and a lot of hope.

If I thought that I could consistently string coherent thoughts together, I'd like to try writing reviews of new stuff. I was the theatre critic for Philly's weekly paper The Welcomat for nine years. I still get advance music from ECM and other labels, but most days my brain is Swiss Cheese.

If his brain was Swiss Cheese, I'd like to find out where to get some and give it to everyone on the OMN staff.

Subsequent to that he turned prolific, writing multiple pieces for us, all brilliant, drawing on his vast experience but also his foresight about new Jazz music. It was an unbeatable combination. It was obvious that he wrote when he was able. Sometimes in bursts, followed by lulls. It was in December of 2020 that he sent me what would be the last story he had for us, on the retirement from performing of Keith Jarrett.

He wrote, No one died. But the empty feeling is the same. Mourning and loss; memories and grief...

Now Bill has died and we have that empty feeling of mourning and loss, memories and grief.

Here are some of the stories he did for us:

 (Being) Keith Jarrett: A giant forced to stop playing (Being) Keith Jarrett: A giant forced to stop playing

The best Jazz gig ever: Heat, humidity, Dianne Reeves and a little girl By BILL ROYSTON // One memorable night with Dianne Reeves, a little girl and cigarettes.

The Worst Jazz Gig Ever! Bill Royston spins the tale of the worst Jazz gig ever...including No Show Joe Henderson.

Ellis Marsalis dead at 85 from Covid-19 / A remembrance By BILL ROYSTON // After one particularly strong performance, the agent who was with us slinked over to the last horn player. Ellis stood up, wagged his finger, and warned "You stay away from him! You don't touch him until he graduates!" The agent slithered back to his seat and wasn't heard from again until we got back to the hotel.

Lo and Sco and more new releases from ECM  By BILL ROYSTON // Lo is Joe Lovano and Sco is John Scofield. See what the founder of the Portland Jazz Festival has to say.

 Giving Emily Remler her due, thirty years later. By BILL ROYSTON // The tales and trials of the late guitarist Emily Remler.

For more Bill Royston OMN stories, do an OMN search.

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