New Orleans Comes to Cape May: 26th Annual Jazz Festival, Cape May, NJ Nov. 10-12
“ Musically, the most daunting challenge of this festival was trying to catch all of the performances. ”
Cape May Jazz Festival
Cape May, NJ
Over one year has passed since Hurricane Katrina wrought incalculable damage to the people, property and psyche of Louisiana. This November, "New Orleans Comes to Cape May was the theme of the 26th Cape May Jazz Festival, which was held November 10-12.
Musically, the most daunting challenge of this festival was trying to catch all of the performances. Each evening there were up to eight bands playing in different venues simultaneously. Over the course of the weekend, festival-goers had 24 events, including jam sessions, from which to choose. Fans traveled from venue to venue via a trolley bus service which was included with the $150 weekend "all events pass. Granted, there could be worse problemsand what festival organizer was ever unhappy to be besieged with the complaint that there was too much good music at their festivalbut visitors really had to plot their plan of attack to catch the bands they really wanted to hear. The other option was to catch one or two tunes from a set and move on to the next performance.
Festival organizers scheduled an eclectic mix, which included elder statesman (Kidd Jordan, Alvin Batiste), young lions (Jonathan Batiste, Christian Scott) from New Orleans, along with several local bands, including Puzzlebox Experiment and Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble.
The first night, the New Orleans All-Star Jazz Band took the stage at Convention Hall, led by drummer Herlin Riley. They started the festival off with a New Orleans twist on "Caravan with blazing interplay between 22-year-old trumpeter Christian Scott and trombonist Corey Henry.
The second night at the same venue, saxophonist Kidd Jordan and clarinetist Alvin Batiste were the anchors of the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Masters, who were featured along with bassist William Parker on "Rock Around The Clock." Also on Saturday evening, trumpeter Maurice Brown and his quintet played the Grand Hotel, where they brought the house down.
Brown began his second set with the Freddie Hubbard composition "Birdlike" but, unlike the original laid-back tempo, the quintet performed the blues piece as a burner. Smearing phrases and hitting high notes not heard this side of Maynard Ferguson, Brown's energy almost created the first jazz mosh pit. Audience members were clapping their hands, stomping their feet, and exhorting the trumpeter to keep the fire burning, while a gentleman in the first row could barely keep from leaping out of his seat throughout the blistering, spirited set.
A Saturday afternoon jam session featured a rhythm section composed of Charles Fambrough on bass, Aaron Graves on piano, and Keith Kilgo on drums, all doing a yeoman's task: playing for over three hours while a virtual cavalcade of instrumentalists and vocalists took turns strutting their wares on the stage. Among the most memorable performers were trumpeter Omar Kabir, saxophonist Tim Price and vocalist Jeannie Brooks, who displayed an impressive range and had the audience's rapt attention with her singing and scatting on "Round Midnight and "Bye Bye Blackbird.
The weekend's other outstanding evening performances included the aforementioned Puzzlebox Experiment, bassist Brian Bromberg's Acoustic Trio (which included his brother David on drums) and, in a first for this festival, Zydeco music performed by Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers.
An especially poignant, touching moment was a memorial service for pianist and frequent festival performer Brain Trainor, who passed away suddenly on July 8, 2006. The service embraced his life and music and included a traditional New Orleans funeral procession bringing the music to the streets of Cape May and concluding, memorably, with "When the Saints Come Marching In.
The festival organizers should be commended. This event was not just a celebration of music but, even more compellingly, of the human spirit. Untold numbers of New Orleans musicians have not been able to return to their homes; for many, their homes, their histories, are gone. During the Saturday morning press conference, clarinetist Dr. Michael White, still "exiled" in Houston, explained that his New Orleans home was submerged in eight and a half feet of water. Among the items destroyed were over five thousand CD's, four thousand books, fifty vintage clarinets and irreplaceable recordings tracing the evolution of New Orleans jazz. Trumpeter Marlon Jordan told of being trapped on the roof of his house for five days, before being rescued by helicopter. Another musician was overheard explaining to a festival-goer the New Orleans practice of placing caskets above ground; the caskets of several of his deceased relatives, he continued, have been missing since the hurricane.