There is no doubt that the Cape May Jazz Festival is a success. Presented twice a year in the charming New Jersey seaside resort of Cape May, the event is entering its twelfth year. The secrets to its success? Great music and great organization; the festival seems to have struck an ideal balance between music and marketing.
Anyone attending this event would have to conclude that the reports of jazz' demise are grossly exaggerated. According to music industry sources, jazz represents only 2% of the market, yet when a group puts together a well-organized jazz festival like this one, every event is packed with fans. Why is this? Could it be that the music industry bears some of the blame? Another fact: Maria Schneider's CD Concert In The Garden, is not available in any store; it can only be purchased through her website. Yet it is Down Beat Readers' Poll album of the year. And this is a growing trend. Conclusion: as far as jazz is concerned, the music industry is letting us down.
There can be no question that this is an extremely well-organized festival. Co-founders Carol Stone and Woody Woodland and their team have done a great job in getting the whole community behind the event, putting together a strong group of sponsors (Bank of America, Yamaha, Cape Savings Bank, Barefoot Wine, Delaware River and Bay Authority, WRTI Temple Public Radio, WBGO Jazz 88, WTTH The Touch, Jazz Times, Cape May Star and Wave, Cape May Gazette, Verizon Wireless), and spreading the word far and wide. Since its inception, attendance has increased 85% and the music budget is up by 89%. Every aspect of the weekend--scheduling, publicity, accommodation, transportation--is carefully orchestrated, with great attention to detail. The results can be seen at every event of the festival; every show I went to was packed. According to the organizers, total attendance at the festival was over 8,000.
As for the music, there is, again, no compromise here when it comes to quality. The stated goal of the festival is to "promote acoustic jazz in mostly intimate small club settings." This festival was built around a tribute to the late flutist Herbie Mann. Among the artists featured were: Herbie Mann's Band lead by Geoffrey Mann, featuring Dave Valentin and Larry Coryell; Hubert Laws' Quintet with David "Fathead" Newman; the Gerald Veasley Quintet featuring Chuck Loeb; Bobby Watson's Horizon with Terrell Stafford; Charlie Hunter, Andy Bey, Mary Stallings, Gene Ludwig; Tim Eyermann and East Coast Offering; the T. K. Blue Quintet; Edgardo Cintron, Frank Bey, Barbara D. Mills, Chip Shelton, Joshua Breakstone, Dan Faulk, Burr Johnson, Byther Smith, Bonga and Vodou Jazz, Bubba Macs Blues Band, Keisa Brown and Rolling Thunder Band. In addition there was a Jazz Dinner, a Gospel and Blues Brunch and several organized jam sessions for local jazz artists.
There was far too much going on for one journalist to cover, but I was there mainly to see the flutists, and the tributes to Herbie Mann. Whatever the critics may have thought of Herbie, it is remarkable how affectionately he is remembered by so many musicians. Mann, who was voted number one jazz flutist for 13 years by Downbeat Magazine, performed to a sell-out crowd at the festival in April 1999 and November 2002. At his last appearance he asked if Cape May would honor the music of Herbie Mann at a future festival, and this weekend was the fulfillment of the organizers' promise to do so. As Carol Stone writes in the program notes "Herbie was so loved by both musicians and jazz aficionados for his musicianship, honesty and being the gentleman he always was. The finest musicians were on his gigs and his recordings and many will be here Friday night in Convention Hall to honor him, including Dave Valentin, Larry Coryell, Edson Café DaSilva, and his original band with his son Geoffrey on drums."
The Valentin/Coryell group played two shows and I stayed for both of them. There was a brief introduction by Herbie Mann's widow Janeal Arison, in which she thanked the festival and the musicians for the tribute, and also asked all the man over fifty to get tested for prostate cancer. This was the cause of Herbie's death and his foundation is devoted to testing and early detection of the disease to save lives.
The following sets from Valentin and Coryell were top notch; they are both masters of their respective genres and once they hit a groove it was a deep one. They were very ably assisted by pianist Mark Soskin, bassist Frank Gravis, percussionist Carlinhos Oliviera, and drummer Geoffrey Mann who was there entirely on merit, rather than just because he is Herbie Mann's son. Apart from virtuosity, Valentin always injects a measure of his irrepressible good humor, and all there was also a discernible fondness for Herbie Mann and his music from all the members of the group.
If Dave Valentin's show was a flutist's delight, the next day's show took it up a notch. Hubert Laws is simply a flutist's flutist. After extensive study with some of the finest classical flutists in the country Clement Barone at Texas Southern and Julius Baker at Juilliard--Laws applied his skills to both jazz and classical performance. Some of his recordings have been a slightly uneasy mix between the two, although his work as a sideman with the likes of Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, Milt Jackson and Victor Feldman have been some of the finest examples of jazz flute on record. Hubert's public appearances are rare these days, and this was the first time I had heard him live. All reservations melted away. Fronting a quintet with two keyboard players, David Budway on acoustic piano and Rob Mullins on a variety of keyboards, plus John Leftwich on bass and Ralph Penland on drums, Laws presented a program of jazz standards and his arrangements of classical pieces such as Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Suite." It was beautifully executed, unflaggingly interesting and swung unfailingly. Laws was joined by guest artist David ‘Fathead' Newman who worked extensively with Herbie Mann, and, on Herbie's "Comin' Home Baby" they were joined by another flutist, New York's Andrea Brachfeld. (See www.phoenixrisingmusic.com) On the second set there was also a surprise appearance by Craig Bailey. Bottom line: it was a flutist's paradise, but judging by the audience's response, you did not have to be a flutist to have thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
With what time I had left I tried to look in on as many other shows as possible. I enjoyed a set with T.K. Blue and his Carribean-tinged jazz, heard the tail end of Tim Eyermann's extraordinary multi-instrumental virtuosity, and looked in on several jam sessions, while enjoying some excellent dining and great shopping in the charming Cape May environment.
The festival's thirteenth year kicks off this month, with another full line up built around a tribute to Little Jimmy Scott. Full details can be seen at: http://www.capemayjazz.com/index.cfm. If you like jazz and you are looking for a really great weekend I cannot recommend it too highly.