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  • Elliott Simon wrote on January 30, 2007 report

    Twice a year, just before the tourists come and right after they leave, the delightful oceanside village of Cape May, New Jersey plays host to one of the finest jazz festivals in the East. In the wake of hurricane Katrina, festival founder Woody Woodland had an idea to bring New Orleans jazz to Cape May.

    Jazz is an integral and family-centered part of the culture in New Orleans, and the citys impact far outweighs the contribution of its individual musicians due to an unparalleled music education system at the elementary, secondary and post secondary levels. In fact, music education is a major part of what clarinetist Alvin Batiste calls the jazz incubator that is New Orleans. Thus was born Woodland's idea out of a concern for the musicians of the cradle of jazz--a conception that once again came to fruition, resulting in a spiritually uplifting experience for all who attended this year's event, held November 10-12.

    The festival takes advantage of Cape Mays existing facilities, matching style with venue for a quintessential broad-based jazz experience. This year, the beautiful, unseasonably warm weather rounded out a perfect weekend, permitting the festival-goer to pick and choose from the 24 separate events. Strolling along the lovely ocean fronting Beach Street, one could duck into seven different spaces to sample everything from the wild electric washboard and accordion of Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers at Club Cabanas to the elegant vocal stylings of Rebecca Parris accompanied by Cape May jazz piano legend George Mesterhazy in the Victorian dining room of the Inn of Cape May.

    Up and comers were also much in evidence, and "young Turks" like trumpeters Tony Smith and Omar Kabir blew hot at the clubs. Latin jazz was duly represented as timbalero Edgardo Cintrons Azuca Band with trumpeter Winston Byrd played 3 smoking sets and conguero Steve Kroon presented his exciting percussive-based music with vibist Bryan Carrott at Carneys. Flugelhornist Chuck Mangione reprised all of his hits at the acoustically sweet Regional High School Auditorium and smooth-voiced Kevin Mahogany paid soulful tribute to vocalist Johnny Hartman at the Grand Hotel. As usual, a bus system that cruises the various venues kept walking to a minimum and the laid-back atmosphere allowed for musician/attendee interaction not found at most festivals.

    The weekend, however, belonged to New Orleans, with two all-star concerts at the Cape May Convention Hall. Each night in bands that included a blend of New Orleans mentors and prize students, the power of the New Orleans educational approach and the spiritual connectedness of the musicians were on display. Drummer Herlin Riley led the aptly-named New Orleans All-Star Jazz Band that featured the great traditional clarinetist Dr. Michael White, current NYC first-call saxophonist Victor Goines, vocalist Topsy Chapman, Roland Guerin on bass, and a phenomenal young trio of pianist Jonathan Batiste, trumpeter Christian Scott and the most expressive t-bone this side of Wycliffe Gordon, Corey Henry.

    The musical and personal optimism of these musicians in the face of their recent unfathomable loss was inspiring. Dr. Michael White relayed how his irreplaceable lifelong collection of 4000 books, records, sheet music and 50 vintage clarinets dating back to the first decades of the twentieth century were destroyed. Young trumpeter Marlon Jordan described how he was stranded on his roof for five days while the seminal avant gardist and educator Kidd Jordan stated how he was driven from his home. In the face of all this adversity, the valor and artistic spirituality were joyful and awe-inspiring.

    The final Convention Hall concert reflected the New Orleans approach to a tee. The band, dubbed the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Masters, after their summer camp that serves as a forum for passing on knowledge to the next generation, presented a program that included the traditional and the boundary stretching. Clarinetist Alvin Batiste is a glorious musical blend of New Orleans classical clarinet and the avant garde, possessing a tone and technique that is absolutely matchless. He joined with the incomparable saxophonist Kidd Gordon, NYC bassist extraordinaire William Parker, trumpeter Clyde Kerr Jr., drummer Alvin Fielder, vocalist/educator Germaine Bazzle, flutist Kent Jordan and pianist Darrel Lavigne to step through a comprehensive program that was as expansive in scope as it was musically adventurous.

    The New Orleans dynasty families such as Jordan, Marsalis and Batiste have impacted on jazz for the past 4 generations, and if their recent showing at Cape May is any indication, they will thankfully do so for the foreseeable future.