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Cape May Jazz Festival 2003

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Terry, one of the dwindling number of jazzmen who predate the bebop revolution of the 1940s, played with less fire but undiminished warmth...
Clark Terry, one of the revered figures in jazz, was the guest of honor at the semiannual Cape May Jazz Festival April 4-6, playing two sets with his current quintet plus guest stars and three sets with former students calling themselves the Clark Terry Alumni Band.

The opening night's first set was billed as a “roast,” but emcee Ed Smith amended that, recognizing that since no one could think of anything even remotely tart-tongued to say about the 82-year-old trumpeter, singer and inventor of the “Mumbles” language, it would be a “toast” instead. Then a dozen jazz luminaries, all one-time colleagues or disciples, shared fond recollections of working and playing with Terry. Frank Foster's poetry ("rated PG-25") brought down the house.

Terry, one of the dwindling number of jazzmen who predate the bebop revolution of the 1940s, played with less fire but undiminished warmth while guest Jon Faddis supplied the fireworks. Terry's patented nonsensical conversation with another of jazz's reigning comedians, tenor player-singer James Moody, was hilarious.

Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon's quartet furnished some of the best music of the weekend. Gordon has complete command of his instrument and a Wynton Marsalis-like devotion to jazz from the early days to the present. And he's got a pianist, Eric Lewis, who has a world of technique and and who ripped off astonishingly innovative, highly percussive solos on tune after tune. Guest trumpeters Marcus Belgrave and Terell Stafford shared the spotlight during this memorable set.

Organist Jimmy McGriff is a favorite at this festival, and the bar where he played, Carney's, was filled to overflowing for all three sets. I squeezed in for a couple of tunes and watched as McGriff, his face the picture of serenity, drove his Hammond B-3 deeper and deeper into a blues groove, setting hundreds of listeners bobbing heads and gyrating in place for a good 20 minutes. Alto player Bill Easley and guitarist Wayne Boyd kept the intensity level way high.

Another regular at Cape May is Boston singer Rebecca Parris, whose rich alto voice and expressive interpretations of standards and songs that deserve to be better known enthralled the late-night crowd at the restored Congress Hall ballroom. Her version of the Sarah Vaughan lament, “To Say Goodbye,” was done so dramatically, one felt Parris was herself bidding a tearful farewell to the late, great Sassy. The wistful, life-affirming “This Is All I Ask” was another keeper.

Parris brought a friend on stage, Sandy Staley, a singer from Pittsburgh with a jaunty manner and a career that dates back to the Forties, and the two of them cut loose on several tunes, notably a “My Analyst Told Me”/”Centerpiece” medley. Scat duets are so much fun.

Pianist George Mesterhazy, a longtime accompanist for Parris, was ever-supportive, never intrusive.

Slide Hampton has been working with various combinations of fellow trombone players for years. This weekend, he brought a “trombone choir” to Cape May that included elder statesmen Hampton, who is 71; Bob Brookmeyer, 73; Benny Powell, 72, and the much younger Harold Crook. Carefully crafted arrangements of standards like “Stolen Moments” and “In a Sentimental Mood” allowed each player to showcase his own style during this mellow hour.

Singer Oscar Brown Jr. , best known for writing and performing lyrics to jazz classics of the 1960s, was off the scene for many years, but he's back, and captivating as ever. His singing and storytelling are as much theater as jazz.
Capping off the weekend for me was Edgardo Cintron's Latin jazz ensemble, a high-energy septet from the Philadelphia-Trenton area that brought up guest trumpeters Winston Bird and Eddie Morgan to help blow the roof right off Carney's.

Despite the war, the listless economy and the fickle early spring weather, attendance at this 19th edition of CMJF seemed to be as strong as ever. Co-producer Woody Woodland and other emcees pitched festival-goers to contact lawmakers and protest the proposed cutoff of state Arts Council funds, but even without grants this event seems a sure bet to keep on swinging.


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