Cape May Jazz Festival Celebrates it

Cape May Jazz Festival Celebrates it


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



This year the festival featured national  headliners and legends such as Maynard

Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band, Pieces of A Dream, Jimmy Scott . . .

Oscar Brown Jr. as well as . . . Ray Vega’s Latin Jazz Band



Cape May Jazz Festival 

Celebrates Its Tenth Anniversary

By Junious Ricardo Stanton


The Cape May Jazz Festival a semi annual event held in April and November in the quiet sea shore town of Cape May, New Jersey was the brainchild of Wilmer “Woody” Woodland and Carol Stone, two jazz afficionados.

In October of 1993 they were traveling back to Cape May on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry from the Rehobeth Jazz Festival in Rehobeth Beach Delaware. They set out to turn their idea into reality by setting a goal of bringing a first class Jazz festival to Cape May, New Jersey. From their idea the Cape May Jazz Festival was born.

Woodland and Stone were able to garner support within the community and several key hotels joined in the planning. The first festival featured local and regional artists who preformed in the Marquis de Lafayette Hotel. One thousand jazz lovers attended the first weekend festival but the seeds of success were planted early on.

The town believed in the idea. Stone and Woodland put together a community board of directors and an executive board that was able to secure a myriad of sponsors and supporters. From that first weekend festival the Cape May Jazz Festival has grown into one of the premiere weekend musical events on the East Coast. From a single venue that first weekend the Cape May Jazz Festival has grown to eight sites ranging from larger auditoriums like the Cape May Convention Hall and the Grand Ballroom of the Grand Hotel to a church gymnasium to more intimate settings like the Corinthian Yacht Club and several clubs and restaurants along the beach front. The semi-annual festivals attract over eight thousand Jazz lovers to the three-day events.

Many of the same original supporters who helped get the festival off the ground are still active. Woody Woodland, Carol Stone, and their board of directors work assiduously to make sure the festival is top shelf and offers a variety of artists and styles.

Woodland, a native of Chester Pennsylvania, is a charismatic personality who maintains the Cape May Jazz Festival is helping keep the Jazz tradition alive.

“We’re working hard to keep Jazz music alive. We bring in the best artists and pay them what they ask. If they ask for $5,000 or $10,000 we give it to them. 

We don’t try to skimp or talk them down to $2,500 or $3,500 and we’re a non-profit organization. We’re thankful for our sponsors and the support of the people. We’ve gone from having one thousand people attend to the point we attract about eight thousand, and we’re growing.”

This year the festival featured national  headliners and legends such as Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band, Pieces of A Dream, Jimmy Scott (formally known as Little Jimmy Scott), Oscar Brown Jr. as well as local, regional and nationally known vocalists and musicians such as Ray Vega’s Latin Jazz Band. Eric Alexander, Gerald Veasley, Charles Fambrough, David Leonhardt, Papa John, and his son Joey DeFrancesco, Aaron Graves, Jeannie Brooks and up-and-coming talent like Sherri Wilson Butler, Denise King, and young heads, Eleazar and Tyrone Shafer. 

Jimmy Scott and Oscar Brown Jr put on fabulous shows and were backed up by two outstanding bands the Jazz Expressions and the Aaron Graves Trio respectively; excellent ensembles in their own right.  Jimmy Scott and Oscar Brown, Jr.’s voices were crisp and they had the audience eating out of their hands, hanging on their every phrase and especially enjoying Oscar Brown Jr.’s antics as he belted out favorites like “The Snake,” “Hey Daddy,” “Signifying Monkey,” “Hips,” as well as topical and timely new material.

Cape May is easily accessible from New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and parts South. The festival markets itself by partnering with serious jazz radio stations in the New York/North Jersey, Philadelphia, South Jersey WBGO FM and WRTI FM, periodicals like JazzTimes Dot Com, Atlantic City commercial FM station WTTH and several South Jersey newspapers.

In addition to the concerts the Festival sponsors free workshops for young people and aspiring musicians open to the public. They have Saturday and Sunday afternoon jam sessions where musicians are encouraged to bring their instruments and sit in with the professionals, who work the festival as an added attraction. The public gets to watch and enjoy the music. The festival supplies an ideal mix because the planners bring in musicians who appreciate their audience, the public is receptive to and appreciative of the musicians and performers and the laid-back atmosphere and environment are conducive to having a good time.  

Festival organizers schedule several performances either simultaneously or in staggered intervals. They provide shuttle busses to take folks to and fro to the various locations and things actually run smoothly and efficiently. If one venue is crowded folks just get on a shuttle and go to another one or they wait patiently for the next set. Festival attendees are mature; the crowds are ethnically mixed.

They are knowledgeable about jazz and extremely friendly. They may sit through a set, or leave before it concludes so they can catch another performance going on at another venue and the artists don’t mind because other folks are coming in to take their place so the place stays packed. There is a lot of jovial interaction as strangers meet and mingle waiting for busses or in line to get into a venue and old acquaintances are renewed. The audiences respect both the genre of Jazz and the artists. They come expecting a good show and the performers don’t disappoint.

Weekend packages with the various hotels, Bed and Breakfast establishments during the off-peak seasons of April and November make for a nice mini vacation and cultural smorgasbord of Jazz with some Blues and Gospel sprinkled in for good measure.  Woody Woodland, Carol Stone, and Company have hit upon a great formula: keeping jazz alive, providing an entertaining and fun filled weekend at the same time.    

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