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Big Easy at Play: Cape May Jazz Festival, Cape May, NJ November, 10-12

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It's up to those who love jazz to keep helping
Cape May Jazz Festival
Cape May, NJ
November 10-12, 2006

Hearing jazz singer Germaine Bazzle is likely to be one of the best experiences you'll ever have...if you get lucky in New Orleans. But a couple of thousand visitors to the Cape May Jazz Festival, Nov. 10-12, didn't have to trust their luck, getting more than they possibly could have bargained for from the two dozen Crescent City musicians invited to perform at "New Orleans Comes to Cape May."

There were two mainstage concerts at Convention Hall with all-star bands, plus several small-group sets at various clubs around the resort town. Bazzle, a music teacher at a girls' prep school, regards performing as a hobby, but her senior status at school—she's 74—entitles her to travel more now. She's blessed with a rich, flexible voice, a fondness for great old songs, and the Betty Carter-like skill to take a melody apart and reassemble it in her own unique way.

During her stand-out performance, she especially wowed listeners with her trumpet mimicry. Then, toward the end of a joyous ride aboard "Surrey With the Fringe On Top," she simulated a horse prancing off over the hill, clacking her tongue on the roof of her mouth while humming the melody to fade-out.

Tenor player Kidd Jordan, clarinetist Alvin Batiste and trumpeter Clyde Kerr Jr. were the old hands fronting the all-star band accompanying Bazzle. On their own, they covered a lot of musical ground, from a traditional marching band opener to a free-for-all closer that was virtually avant-garde.

On opening night, a whole different cast took the stage, offering a wide range of the multi-hued spectrum that is New Orleans jazz. Traditionalist Michael White on clarinet traded licks with young lions Christian Scott (trumpet), Corey Henry (trombone) and Jonathan Batiste (piano). Vocalist Topsy Chapman revived Louis Armstrong's famous recording of "Butter and Egg Man" for the appreciative and responsive crowd.

But the highlight of the night proved to be the late drummer James Black's composition, "Magnolia Triangle," thanks to drummer Herlin Riley's compelling intro and tenor player Victor Goines' riveting variations on the serpentine melody.

Later on Friday night, Stephanie Jordan, Kidd's daughter, who was a surprise hit at the Higher Ground Katrina Relief concert at Lincoln Center a year ago, reprised the Shirley Horn anthem of hope, "Here's to Life," in a small group setting. She closed with a blues medley beginning with "Stormy Monday," whose venerable lyrics eerily foretold the horrors of the hurricane: "They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad. Wednesday's worse, and Thursday's oh so sad."

Trumpeter Maurice Brown, a Katrina evacuee who landed on his feet in New York, was another highlight of the gala event. His quintet has three new faces, but they didn't miss a beat playing selections from his Hip to Bop debut CD plus a few new tunes. Look for Brown to show up on some jazz authorities' "bright new stars" list some day soon.

Later, many of the guest artists took part in a press conference to discuss the continuing struggle to rebuild their homes, their careers, and their city. The message was clear: the American people have been exceedingly generous, but the government hasn't lived up to the post-storm promise to make New Orleans whole and safe. It's up to those who love jazz to keep helping—and to push our representatives to "make levees, not war." Several of the panelists cited the Jazz Foundation of America for having helped 1,000 or more musicians—an effort that continues.

Some other festival highlights:

Kevin Mahogany's balladry as he promoted his latest CD, a tribute to Johnny Hartman (the one who recorded with Coltrane), Mahogany's velvet voice never sounding so lush.

Singer Jeannie Bryson's set covering blues, ballads, a bossa nova and a charming duet with husband Coleman Mellett on "It's So Nice to Have a Man Around the House."

Edgardo Cintron's Azuca Band turning the heat way up for a full afternoon of big band Latin jazz.

A memorial service for pianist Brian Trainor, a festival stalwart since the early 1990s who died at 56 this July, including videotaped clips of his past performances and eulogies by friends and fellow musicians, along with a reunion of the Festival All-Star band he put together a few years ago.

Finally, a New Orleans street band leading a parade of second-liners out of Convention Hall, sashaying on down Beach Drive for more afternoon festivities...another striking and memorable instance of New Orleans coming to Cape May.

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