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Cape May Jazz Festival, November 6-8, 2008


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This 30th Cape May festival was billed as a tribute to late trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. It featured several former Ferguson sidemen, as well as a Friday night opener in which trumpeter Jon Faddis ably took on high-register responsibilities.
Cape May Jazz Festival
Cape May, NJ
November 6-8, 2008

For 15 years, the semi-annual Cape May Jazz Festival has been offering jazz-and-blues-filled weekends each April and November, to primarily East Coast jazz fans who flock to New Jersey's southernmost tip more for the music than the shopping, the colorful array of gingerbread Victorian houses, or the bird-watching that are the seaside city's other claims to fame.

The 30th edition of the Cape May Jazz Festival, held November 7-9, 2008, trimmed a bit in its offerings compared to years when it had an exhausting schedule for listeners, was also down quite a bit in turnout, which organizers blamed on the health of the economy.

This festival's schedule (five acts on Friday night and six on Saturday night) seemed more manageable for a listener, enabling a chance to hear more full sets rather than give in to the temptation to catch a little bit of a lot of acts when the festival offered as many as 10 or 12 different venues a night from Cape May's blend of theatres, hotel ballrooms and small clubs along Beach Drive.

This 30th Cape May festival was billed as a tribute to late trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, who appeared twice in Cape May as a headliner. It featured several former Ferguson sidemen, as well as a Friday night opener in which trumpeter Jon Faddis ably took on high-register responsibilities in a Ferguson tribute by the Atlantic City-based Ed Vezinho/Jim Ward Big Band, which performed Maynard's charts.

The material, showcased at Lower Cape May Regional High School's Performing Arts Center, included "Where's Teddy?," Slide Hampton's "Frame for the Blues," and the timeless ballad "Smile." Faddis, playing seated because of an ailing back, was particularly fine on the Don Sebesky arrangement of "Danny Boy," (featured on a 1964 Maynard recording that Faddis said he listened to a lot when he was growing up).

Before Faddis joined the fun, the band also played a stirring version of Ferguson's hit version of the Joe Zawinul tune "Birdland," featuring keyboard player Demetrios Pappas and bassist Jack Hegyi. Baritone saxophonist Denis DeBlasio, who was musical director for Maynard Ferguson for five years and now directs the Maynard Ferguson Institute for Jazz at Rowan University, performed with the big band, sharing a few "life on the bus with Maynard" stories. He also performed hard-driving bebop with his own quintet on Saturday at Carney's Main Room.

West Coast singer Jackie Ryan blended exuberant warmth and emotion with a great sense of swing in her opening set at the Grand Hotel Ballroom. She was particularly effective with her rendition of Oscar Brown Jr.'s "Opportunity Please Knock" (written for a street gang), "Besame Mucho," "Wild is the Wind," Cy Coleman's "The Best is Yet to Come" and "Red Top" (a Sonny Stitt tune to which King Pleasure wrote the lyrics).

Michael Pedicin Jr., a former Maynard Ferguson saxophonist, was featured at Carney's Other Room, with trumpeter Bob Ferguson in his band, a warmup of sorts for Ferguson's own Maynard tribute on Saturday night in Congress Hall's Boiler Room. (Bob Ferguson, no relation to the late bandleader, considered Doc Severinsen and Maynard Ferguson among his primary technical influences).

Santana tribute a Latin highlight

Percussionist Edgardo Cintron's septet, Inca, provided a Saturday afternoon highlight with his three-set tribute to Carlos Santana. He infused a wide range of the guitarist's material with a jazz twist. Cintron said he plans to release a Santana tribute CD next year. His third set performance included "Evil Ways," a cha cha version of "Hold On," "Stormy," "Samba Pa Ti," "Maria, Maria" and "Oye Como Va," the Tito Puente classic that was made famous by Santana's cover hit.

Two contemporary jazz headliners—the R&B/smooth jazz quintet Pieces of a Dream and saxophonist Pamela Williams—both mentored or taught by the late Grover Washington, Jr., highlighted the Saturday night lineup.

Pieces of a Dream's material, at the Lower Cape May Performing Arts Center, ranged from the traditional ("The Old Rugged Cross") to a tribute to "Mr. Magic" Grover Washington to mainstream ("The Shadow of Your Smile"), from its own "Mount Airy Groove" to Prince's "Purple Rain." There was a lot of fiery interplay, particularly between guitarist Rohn Lawrence and saxophonist Eddie Baccus Jr.

Pieces, now in its fourth decade, also gave the festival its second weekend rendition of the Beatles' "Come Together," the first performed by bluesman Frank Bey's Swing City Blues Band on Friday at Cabana's. Bey, a perennial festival favorite, was in strong form.

There was much discussion and celebration at this year's festival about Barack Obama victory in the presidential race a few nights earlier. His win, Pamela Williams said between songs in her Grand Hotel performance, shows that "beneath the surface, we're all the same." Her set included a lovely instrumental update of the Burt Bacharach hit "Alfie."

Other weekend performers include percussionist Chembo Corniel's Latin Band, singer Antoinette Montague, blues singer-guitarist David Cole and a full Saturday afternoon of jazz and blues jams at the two Carney's rooms and Cabana's that featured a rotating blend of more than three-dozen players.

Cape May finds itself in a rebuilding mode, with a focused effort to draw younger audiences and musicians, a challenge complicated by the economy. Carol Stone, the festival's artistic director and co-founder, says the event, which peaked with 8,400 attendees five years ago, saw attendance drop this year to just over 5,000.

"The economy is terrible," Stone said. "All arts organizations' attendance is hurting big time. Most of our people come from out of town, which means they come for the weekend, and many have told me they cannot afford to come at this time. Our population is aging so we are incorporating more music to attract a younger audience. It is gradually happening but it will take time."

Photo Credit Ken Franckling

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