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Cape May, New Jersey Fall Jazz Festival 2003

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The twice-a-year event was launched in this picturesque Victorian town at New Jersey's southernmost point in April 1994, making this the 10th anniversary and the 20th festival.
A recordbreaking, record-making Cape May Jazz Festival took place November 7-9, 2003.

The twice-a-year event was launched in this picturesque Victorian town at New Jersey's southernmost point in April 1994, making this the 10th anniversary and the 20th festival. Attendance keeps going up - a record 8,300 tickets were sold for this one, bringing the cumulative audience to 100,000. And another first: a governor was on hand - the McGreeveys were there along with their spotlight-stealing 2-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, who danced out front all during Maynard Ferguson's opening set at Convention Hall.

As for the record-making: In recognition of the 10th anniversary, festival organizers brought a half-dozen musicians who've been on stage at nearly every festival together as an "all-star band" and taped all three sets, with highlights to be issued on a CD in the near future.

Happily, the all-stars meshed beautifully, led by pianist Brian Trainor and featuring underrated vocalist Jeannie Brooks, and their second and brief third sets turned out to be, for me, the best couple of hours of the entire weekend.

Trumpeter Winston Byrd paid affectionate tribute to festival founders Carol Stone and Woody Woodland - and to all the others who've made this festival such a success - in an original ballad, "Friends," that swung along so melodiously and effortlessly you could have sworn it came out of the Benny Carter songbook. "To think a 29-year-old wrote that," Stone marveled later.


Brooks sang with great passion on a rousing blues, "The Way You Make Me Feel," and with impeccable taste on Tadd Dameron's exquisite ballad, "Passing Strangers."

Saxophonist Tim Eyerman switched to bass flute, then alto flute, for his own funkified arrangement of the classic "All Blues," with bassist Charles Fambrough and drummer Keith Killgo rock steady on the heavy backbeats.

I don't buy a lot of CDs any more, owning more than I can ever listen to enough. But my order's in for this one.

Singer Jimmy Scott's set was another highlight. He was in great, heartbreaking voice on a bevy of standards, and closed with the gospelish "Got to Be a Better World Somewhere," harking back to his early years as an r&b hitmaker. T.K. Blue got in some juicy flute obbligatos on "But Beautiful" and "The Masquerade is Over."

At 75, Maynard Ferguson has cut back on his trumpet pyrotechnics, leaving most of the work to the young guns manning his 10-piece Big Bop Nouveau band. But he was fun to watch as conductor and cheerleader for this crackerjack outfit as it tried to blow the roof off on brassy, bold versions of unboppish tunes like "Girl from Ipanema" and "Ain't No Sunshine." "MF's Hit Medley" ran through the forgettable pop-rock tunes that unfortunately Ferguson is best known for, including the rock anthem "MacArthur Park" and the themes from "Rocky" and "Star Wars."


South African reed player Morris Goldberg brought his quartet, Ojoyo, into Carney's, a boisterous, usually jam-packed bar where the louder a band plays, the more determined patrons seem to be to drown it out. Aided by local trumpet favorite Omar Kabir, Ojoyo succeeded in projecting its buoyant African and reggae melodies out to those there to listen.

By contrast, singer Carla Cook's midnight set in another venue played to a diminishing audience, a shame because it was eminently listenable, drawing on diverse sources - Ellington, Marvin Gaye (in a nod to her Detroit roots), gospel and Eric Clapton.

Sam "Bluesman" Taylor and Frank Bey collaborated on a Saturday afternoon of blues that proved a refreshing alternative to the standing-room-only jam sessions at Carney's that are festival staples. Taylor's new album, "Blue Tears," furnished autobiographical material for the 69-year-old singer/guitarist as he sang of troubles with women, record company executives and others who roadblocked his twisting, turning path to success in life and career.

Papa John and son Joey DeFrancesco were also in a blues groove for their Hammond B-3 organ duet, romping through the novelty second-linish "Slam That Slim" and closing with their own take on "All Blues." A couple of surprises: Joey played some Miles Davis-like, vibrato-free trumpet on the latter, while his dad sang low key on the old r&b hit, "Do You Wanna Dance."

Young tenor sax lion Eric Alexander led his "cooperative" sextet, All For One, in an hour of hard bop originals at the ballroom of the beautifully restored Congress Hall hotel. He cited the Jazz Messengers as big influences and demonstrated that the Blakey lessons have been well learned.

Among those whose sets I missed - there is more music here on a weekend than there is time to savor it all - were Pieces of a Dream, Oscar Brown Jr., David Leonhardt and Ray Vega.


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