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Veteran Artists at Veterans Weekend Jazz Fest, Cape May, NJ

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28th Cape May Jazz Festival
"Favorites Return to Cape May"
Cape May, New Jersey
November 9-11, 2007

"Favorites Return" was the theme of the 28th Cape May Jazz Festival over Veterans Day weekend. Favorites indeed—not only for the several thousand regulars at this southernmost New Jersey beach resort but for jazz audiences everywhere. The Duke Ellington Orchestra, singers Ernie Andrews and Freddy Cole, tenor giant Houston Person, drummer-educator T.S. Monk, and organ burners Papa John and Joey DeFrancesco are on everyone's "A List." They returned to packed houses.
The Ellington band is no longer the creative juggernaut of the 1920s—1970s aggregation, when Duke and Billy Strayhorn were composing one masterpiece after another. It played nothing new at Cape May's Convention Hall but tore zestfully into the huge inventory of old Ellingtonia.
"Cotton Club Stomp" conjured up images of Flapper-Era dancers, with its ruffles of fluttery alto-sax section riffs. Trombonist Stafford Hunter revived "Amad," a lesser-known gem from Far East Suite. The clarinet- trumpet-trombone trio that opened the indelible "Mood Indigo" showed appropriate reverence, but solos turned playful, James Zollar's muted trumpet and wah-wah trombone both approximating the sound of laughter. Pianist Tommy James revitalized "In a Mellotone" with a flamboyant piano roll, and the orchestra conductor-alto player Charles Young echoed Johnny Hodges' luscious, caramel-coated tone on the haunting Strayhorn ballad "Blood Count."

A special surprise was a guest appearance by a six(yes, 6)-year-old cornetist, Geoffrey Gallante, playing "Concerto for Cootie" (the instrumental basis for "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear from Me") in straightforward fashion while the band wailed behind him.

T.S. Monk's sextet is also dedicated to keeping the music of a past master current—in this case, his father Thelonious Monk. But the energetic drummer draws on other sources as well. The typically quirky melodies "Emanon" and "Think of One" were the Monk works in the band's first set, along with J.J. Johnson's "Kilo" and pianist Sergio Salvatore's unaccompanied piece.

The DeFrancescos were jumping from note one, and father and son really cut loose on Miles Davis' "All Blues." Joining in the fun were tenor player Tim Warfield and drummer Byron Landham. Vocalist Coleen McNabb reveled in the double entendres that spiced up a blues about baking a tasty treat in her "red hot oven."

Ernie Andrews turns 80 on Christmas Day, yet his voice has lost none of its power or luster. He alternated between ballads and blues in a late-night set, blending the two song styles on "The More I See You." An Andrews trademark is the blues medley. "Rocks in My Bed" rolled on to "Kansas City." Later, "All Blues" reappeared, living up to its name with bits and pieces from several classics, building to a crescendo punctuated by several spine- tingling, ascending falsetto flights. Pianist Aaron Graves and tenor man Bootsie Barnes kept stoking the fires behind the singer.

Sets by Freddy Cole and Houston Person were both filled to capacity when I arrived, so I checked out some of the festival's local talent in Beach Avenue bars. Ed Cherry's Organ Project caught my ear with a funky Dizzy Gillespie ditty, "Diddy Wah Diddy," on which Jay Collins worked up the crowd on a sputtering baritone sax solo, then cooled things down doubling on flute.

Cintron—a Latin big band headed by timbalero Edgardo Cintron—did marathon duty on Saturday. It blazed for three hours of afternoon jamming, paying homage to Tito Puente and Ray Barretto and artfully blending salsa with Philly-style old soul. Then a seven-piece offshoot played a four-hour dinner set at a local restaurant. And at midnight, there was Edgardo sitting in with the Afro-Rican Ensemble at Carney's bar.

One favorite who didn't return was reed man extraordinaire Tim Eyermann, who played at the first Cape May Fest in 1994 and at many to follow. He died at 61 in May and was eulogized by a dozen or more fellow musicians along with festival organizers and admirers at a memorial service. A second-line parade down Beach Avenue followed.


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