The rains didn’t dampen the spirit of the standing room only crowd for the opening night of the 35th Cape May Jazz Fest this past weekend. Former Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks delivered a smokin’ set of high level improvising, playing mostly acoustic guitar, his fingers flying across the strings for nearly and hour. Accompanied on drums by Marvin “Smitty’ Smith, Billy Pierce on tenor sax and Alfred Rene Camacho on stand up electric bass they had the crowd on their feet shouting for more by the end of the set.
Vocalist Gregory Porter showed why he’s a rising star on the jazz scene singing to a packed house his rich, deep voice can swing, scat and sing the blues. In the tradition of Oscar Brown Jr, Joe Lee Wilson and Leon Thomas, Gregory Porter is one of the most exciting singers to come along in a generation.
Another fine vocalist, New Jersey native, Lauren Hooker, swung through standards and originals as well as some very good jazz poetry by Jeannette Curtis Rideau.
The father son team of Leon Jordan Sr. and Jr,. drums and trumpet respectively, laid down some soulful and swinging sounds with Josh Richman on piano, Greg Riley on sax and Jason Fratacelli on bass, who just may have the best facial expressions at the Fest.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the Fest was seeing the vibraphonist (he actually played the marimba) Warren Wolf and his Wolfpack. Hailing from Baltimore this cat has ideas and chops to spare. His hands were a blur of motion as he banged out one exciting solo after another.
Slide guitar and harmonica blues man Tom Larsen had the joint jumpin’ at Cabanas. His band was solid and tight and a lot of fun too. He had the crowd up on their feet dancing.
The Saturday night line up was equally impressive. Poncho Sanchez got the proceedings going in fine form with his Latin Jazz ensemble featuring: Sanchez on congas, percussion, lead vocals; David Torres on piano and Hammond B-3 Organ; Javier Vergara on tenor & alto saxophones; Ron Blake on trumpet and flugelhorn; Francisco A. Torres on trombone; Tony Banda on bass and background vocals; George Ortiz on timbales; Joey DeLen, Jr. on bongos, percussion and background vocals. Poncho is not only a master conguero in the tradition of Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo, but a first class entertainer too, just like his idol and mentor Dizzy Gillespie.
The Grammy-nominated pianist John Beasley dazzled the crowd with his virtuosity accompanied by bassist Scott Colley and drummer extraordinaire Jeff “Tain” Watts.
Bassist Kim Clarke’s Inner Circle featured guitarist Sheryl Bailey and drummer Sylvia Cuenca in a lively set that featured tunes by Mal Waldron and Jimi Hendrix.
Philly area trumpeter Winston Byrd led a spirited ensemble in a funk-jazz romp.
More good blues from Texas bluesman Andrew Jr Boy Jones who paid his dues with Freddy King.
Rotimi Hundeyin and the Afrophonic Rhythms Crew had the joint jumpin’ at Carney’s with his 10-piece ensemble. They put down some serious Afro-Beats!
Point Blank with trumpeter Gerald Chavis featured some engaging smooth grooves to the laid back crowd at the Boiler Room in Congress Hall.
There were afternoon clinics and workshops where artists like guitarist Monette Sudler and saxophonist Tim Price demonstrated techniques to students.
The afternoon jams were all packed and exciting as players like guitarist Teddy Royal, vocalist Sherry Wilson-Butler and drummer Michael Dempsey invited musicians up to the stage to show what they had.
The future looks bright for the Cape May Jazz Fest as ground was being broke for the new convention hall (hopefully ready in the Fall of 2012) and the festival was recognized for the third year in a row as the number one music festival in the State of New Jersey. I Iook forward to their 36th festival on November 11-13, 2011.
Editor’s note: The photographer and author of this piece, Jim Eigo, is the longstanding publicist for the festival.