September 21, 2014 | The Bulletin
Since 2010, the Oxford Hotel in downtown Bend has hosted 43 concerts in one of its basement ballrooms as part of its Jazz at the Oxford series.
All 43 have sold out.
It sounds impressive, but it didn’t happen without a few nervous moments along the way, said Marshall Glickman, the businessman and jazz fan who founded the series and books the shows.
“In year one and year two, there were some Wednesdays where we weren’t sold out and I was worried because I didn’t want to have empty seats,” Glickman said from his home in Lake Oswego, where he recently moved after more than seven years in Bend. “There were some shows that were close calls that we managed to sell out on the last day.”
To put it mildly, things have changed.
“We’re way past that now,” he said. “(Sell-outs) are just — BOOM — automatic. And what I like about that is that now the audience trusts that even if they don’t know who the musician is, that they’re going to discover some fabulous music.”
Last week, Jazz at the Oxford announced the lineup for its upcoming fifth season (see “2014-15 Jazz at the Oxford Lineup”), which features an expanded slate of shows, increasingly diverse offerings and an educational component. Series subscriptions are on sale through Oct. 21 at www.jazzattheoxford.com, and single-show tickets go on sale Oct. 7.
Glickman, former president of the Portland Trail Blazers and CEO of a sports consulting firm called G2 Strategic, started Jazz at the Oxford in 2010, primarily to quench his own thirst for an upscale nightlife experience in Bend and to nurture his son’s growing interest in jazz. (Laz Glickman is now an accomplished jazz pianist.) He structured the series around holiday weekends from October through March, bringing in performers monthly for three shows spread across two days. The idea: To take advantage of large crowds in town for winter recreation.
Glickman books the artists and does a fair amount of legwork involved in getting them to and from the gig; he has picked many up at Redmond Airport and shared a Thanksgiving meal with jazz singer Diane Schuur. The Oxford transforms the room — which holds 120 people per show — to approximate a dark, traditional jazz cluband provides the budget for the series, which has doubled since the first season. (Glickman declined to provide a more specific budget number.)
Add it all up and you have a successful venture that also has become a vital component of Central Oregon’s music scene.
“Bend has an incredibly vibrant music scene in the summer, but the winter is pretty quiet other than a few shows at the Tower and the Domino Room or Midtown,” Glickman said. “I go to the Midtown for stuff and I’ve seen some wonderful shows at the Tower, but the fact is, this is, I think, the only situation in Bend where you can kind of sit down in a more clublike setting, have something nice to eat and have a cocktail. I like the quality of the presentation.”
When Glickman approached the Oxford about a concert series, both sides were unsure of the idea’s financial viability. Bend already had one jazz concert series — the long-running monthly Jazz at Joe’s shows at Cascades Theatre — and a full-time jazz club, Be Bop Coffee House, had a good run in the mid-2000s but failed because it wasn’t able to attract enough patrons.
“I wasn’t sure going into it because our ticket prices are admittedly pretty high. I wish they were lower; it’s literally a break-even proposition for the hotel, but we have to build a stage, bring in lights and sound and do marketing, the whole thing. It’s not like a permanent club where you make that investment once,” Glickman said.
“So I wasn’t sure if the market was deep enough to step up and pay this kind of money, but, in fact, they are,” he continued. “I think it says there is a market of people that want to hear really high-quality stuff in a really nice setting and they’re willing to pay a little bit of a premium for that.”
Officials at the Oxford were unsure as well but signed on to not only raise the profile of the hotel (and the hotel’s 10 Below restaurant), but also to beef up the region’s cultural offerings in the winter, said Ben Perle, the hotel’s general manager.
“We are maxed out in the summer. I think everybody agrees. And it’s a great thing, but there just isn’t as much in the winter,” he said. “Certainly it was an experiment. It was a test. We did not know how the audience in Bend would respond to more of a small, jazz-club feel, and I think we were really able to create that feeling downstairs, and it’s a very intimate way of seeing quality music, both quality musicians and the investment we made in using quality sound.”
Those investments — as well as Central Oregon’s natural beauty — have gotten the attention of the performers who play the series. Glickman estimated that he received at least 20 unsolicited calls from artists or their managers looking to make a stop in town.
“We’re on the map and therefore so is Bend and, frankly, the Oxford. Because I work with agents in New York City and Los Angeles, as we’ve brought more and more national acts into it … I get notes from the people saying, ‘Wow, what a great gig that was,’” Glickman said. “I’ve gotten all kinds of interesting stuff that I’m already talking about for next year.”
The series is becoming known in Portland, and Glickman hopes that his new ticketing vendor — Portland-based Ticket Tomato, which sells tickets for the Waterfront Blues Festival and the Rose City’s stalwart jazz club, Jimmy Mak’s — will help spread the word further.
Not that Jazz at the Oxford really needs much help in that department.
“It grew and took on a life of it’s own,” Perle said. “Here we are five years later and (we’re bringing in) the likes of Diane Schuur and Javon Jackson and Les McCann. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we would be attracting people who can play places that are much more renowned.”
With the series humming along, Glickman hopes to combine the Oxford’s growing reputation with his available resources to bring an even higher profile artist or two to Bend. He’d also like to do more shows and add opening acts, and he wishes the room was “a little bigger” because he thinks the demand is there. But he has no plans to move Jazz at the Oxford.
“The (hotel) stepped up, and I’m loyal to them completely,” he said. “They backed this thing, and they’ve been terrific, so if something’s working, I’m not going to screw it up by trying to change things.”
The feeling is mutual, said Perle, who acknowledged both the work that goes into staging the shows and the less tangible payoff of the series.
“There are a lot of moving parts. We’re running a business, and this is just one of the events that we (put on),” he said. “But when I see the excitement of people as they’re walking out and saying, ‘Thank you so much for doing this,’ it makes it all worth it. It really does. This is a good thing, I think, for the community and for us, too.”