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Cape May Jazz Festival – Fall

Count Basie Orchestra at Cape May Jazz Festival
Denise Thimes at Cape May Jazz Festival
Ravi Coltrane at Cape May Jazz Festival
Jeff Tain Watts at Cape May Jazz Festival
Teddy Royal at Cape May Jazz Festival
Sunday Jam at Cape May Jazz Festival
Sunday Jam at Cape May Jazz Festival

Cape May is at once the likeliest and unlikeliest site for a jazz festival in November. Likeliest because it’s nearly equidistant from four major mid-Atlantic cities-New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC. Unlikeliest because it’s offseason in this quaint and small Jersey seashore town that at first glance seems a New England fishing village, albeit with Philadelphia sports merchandise on sale everywhere. Charming and romantic Victorian bed and breakfast hotels give the town an old-world flavor that is unlike any other town along the Jersey Shore. But as soon as guests start arriving from all over the Mid-Atlantic region, Cape May becomes a very different place, in which the sounds and sights of live jazz, not seashells or sporting goods, comprise the prevailing culture.

The festival, superbly organized by the dynamo duo of Carol Stone and Woody Woodland, has all sorts of unique wrinkles. Unlike most festivals that take place once annually, Cape May Jazz is held twice a year, in the fall and spring. Being held offseason enables the Festival and its attendees to nearly take over the town, turning the sleepy beach town into a veritable jazz village twice a year. Because most of the venues are clubs around the town, with the exception of a theater inside a local high school a few miles out, jazz fans can either walk (or crawl) from venue to venue or take a shuttle that makes the rounds of downtown clubs.. The audience for the festival is generally older, but not geriatric, with a range of ages starting upward from milddle-aged baby boomers. But don’t get the wrong impression. This is in fact a very active and communal bunch. Many of the attendees are veterans of the festival and seem to have as much fun with each other as with the music. The result is a festival that feels like a continuous party or reunion. For these dedicated and passionate jazz listeners, the music is the glue that binds them together. Generally, the audience seems to enjoy the more straight-ahead acts, and Stone programs the festival accordingly, adding in a dollop of blues here and there. For example, the Fall event I attended included sets from Chester “Memphis Gold” Chandler and the Spring event will include sassy blues singer Shemekia Copeland.

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