Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Cape May weekend of jazz and blues

Twice a year for more than 15 years, Carol Stone and Woody Woodland and their team of supporters (as the nonprofit Friends of Cape May Jazz, Inc.) have been bringing jazz to Cape May, the Victorian resort city located at the tip of southern New Jersey. The event, held in early November and mid-April, is a great way to extend the tourist season in Cape May.

The 31st edition of their Cape May Jazz Festival was held last weekend with the most spectacular April weather of any of the many years I have attended.Most of the music was great as well. My review of the latest edition has been posted at along with two photos.

This may be the most unusual format for a festival that many of us will encounter. Its scattered venues over the years have ranged from the city's beachfront Convention Hall (closed for the past year due to structural issues but expected to be razed and rebuilt), a state-of-the-art performance center at the nearby high school, an assortment of hotel ballrooms and restaurants, and a block of restaurant/bars along Beach Avenue, the main drag.

Saturday afternoon jam sessions generally featuring top regional talent from New Jersey and the Philadelphia area are wildly popular. If you get there after the start, it is tough to get a seat or a table most years. Shuttle buses move attendees between various venues all night long.

The city has much to offer, with its great blend of beach and "boardwalk," an amazing array of Victorian gingerbread houses (many of them now B&Bs), interesting boutiques for those who love to blend jazz and shopping on their visits, and some wonderful restaurants.

My favorite place to dine is The Merion Inn, a historic and popular venue owned by Vicki Watson, who runs it with her significant other, the talented and wonderfully versatile pianist George Mesterhazy. (In the interest of full disclosure: George and I have been close friends since 1992.) When the former Shirley Horn accompanist isn't on the road with singer Paula West or another gig, he usually can be found playing his Steinway in the restaurant's lounge. In the last year, he has also added a weekly Thursday night jam session at the Merion that builds off his basic local trio.

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