It’s amazing that the Cape May Jazz Festival has now completed 17 full seasons of its semi-annual jazz weekends. That’s 34 festivals drawing large off-season crowds to New Jersey’s southern tip.
It was a growing pains sort of weekend for the new blood/old blood running the festival after the summertime resignations of festival co-founders Carol Stone and Woody Woodland after a protracted series of skirmishes with the board of directors. This year, I made the trek to quaint and charming Cape May on a photo assignment for jazztimes.com. Images will be posted with Lee Mergner’s review.
The festival had some very strong acts – The Yellowjackets and trumpeter Terell Stafford’s band were Friday highlights, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson’s quartet with soul jazz master Les McCann, as well as drummer Ralph Peterson’s band, on Saturday.
The Saturday afternoon jam sessions were packed – the sure sign of a good turnout. And it was great to see old friend Winston Byrd, a Delaware native whose trumpet artistry seemed ever-present at the festival for several years before he moved to Los Angeles. He knows how to tear it up. (That's Winston in the photo at a Carney's jam session with guitarist Geno White, saxophonist Tim Price and others.)
The only significant glitch was the challenging acoustics and some keyboard sound problems for the Jackson-McCann show at Star of the Sea Auditorium. There was no such problem on Friday because the Yellowjackets bring along their own sound wizard. A good engineer who works regularly with the audio needs of one band has an edge. He (or she) knows how to turn lemons into lemonade when confronted with – in this case – a tired old grammar school gymnasium.
For budget issues, the festival organizers decided not to shuttle fans to the Cape May Regional High School’s state-of-the-art theater/auditorium a few miles away. It had been the headline venue for several years - and became a critical venue after the beachfront Cape May Convention Hall was condemned two years ago.
This year, all of the consolidated events were within walking distance of the beachfront strip of bars, hotels and dozens of B&Bs. And so will be the new Convention Hall, which is expected to open sometime in 2012, in time for at least one of that year’s festivals. Maybe both of them.
It was nice that the 34th CMJF program book included a photo of the founders. But there was no other visibility given to Carol Woody, nor were they ever thanked publicly for 16.5 years of keeping the event alive, nor were they present. Curious. And sad in a way. Understandable perhaps given the ill will that transpired at times. But life – and festivals – go on.