Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cape May Jazz Fest Spring 09 Preview

Cape May Jazz Fest 2009 Spring Preview

April is Officially Recognized as Jazz Appreciation Month, so appreciate it.

James Cotton, Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang, Andrew Jr. Boy Jones, Alan Weber and Juke Joint Central will certainly give this 31st edition of the Cape May Jazz Fest a blues tinge, a bend in the harp we are certainly looking forward to.

With the theme "Legends and More Blues," there certainly are legends here, and more blues than you can shake a harp at.

This time around the designated dead legends are Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan, with the tributes being performed by Steve Butler as Billy, and Sarah's part being sung by Sabrina Carten, Barbara King and DC Sharon Clark. They will satisfy the classic jazz buffs, while the younger, new wave will be supplied by guitarist Roni Ben Hur and Cuban percussionists Mayra Casales and Francois Zayas. The former will play jazz classics with the latter laying down some new notes you've never heard before, but will most certainly want more.

The blues end of it will be held down by Shaw's Gang, Boy Jones, Weber and Cotton.

Cotton. What a guy! I've seen him a half-dozen times, and he's always terrific, reaching down into his guts to the roots of the music that grew up with him.

I got pictures too, some of Cotton at the Bijou Cafe in Philadelphia in the 70s, and the Bubba Mac Shack a few summers ago. It's a shame, that both great live music cabaret venues like the Bijou and the Bubba Mack Shack no longer exist, a sad contemporary statement on current affairs.

There's also a photo of Cotton and Billy Muller posted above, taken upstairs in the dressing room at the Bijou, where me and Billy interviewed Cotton on tape that night (circa 1978), and oh, what a night that was. That was the night I met Hubert Sumlin, who Cotton introduced after we made Sumlin wait out in the hall while we talked on tape.

Cotton was on break between shows, and the acapella Persuasions were singing downstairs, as you can hear them on the tape I made of the interview, actually a three way conversation between Cotton, Muller and myself, and later Sumlin.

We were sitting there, with the tape recorder on the table running, and Muller, the guitar wizard (who collects Les Pauls) asking most of the questions. First he wanted to know about Cotton's early mentor Sonny Boy Williamson, whose role in the early history of rock & roll is illustrated in a photograph on page one of the Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll. It shows Sonny Boy playing the harp outdoors with a drummer, whose drum read: KFAA - the King Biscuit Flower Hour, execept buscuit spelled wrong.

Cotton got all exicted when he talked about Sonny Boy, and told the story of how, when he was a kid, he hitch hiked to the studio where Sonny Boy's live radio show King Biscuit Time was broadcast in Helena, Arkansas, and how he talked Sonny Boy into letting him play on the show. Helena was also home to Levon Helm, the Band's drummer, whose back to the roots Dirt Farmer CD, recently won awards.

From the same Mississipi river delta region as many of the early blues greats, James Cotton's family were cotton farmers, though he was the youngest of eight and for the most part, kept the rest of the family supplied with water and music he played on the harp, while they worked. His mother taught him the only things she knew how to play on the harmonica - the sound of a train and young Cotton first heard a real song played on the harmonica on the radio, Sonny Boy Williamson radio show, King Biscuit Time, sponsored by the King Biscuit flour baking company.

The real radio roots of rock and roll is still going strong at KFFA:

"Sonny Boy told me to play his commercial theme for the King Biscuit flour, hell, I'll do it for you now," he said, and pulled out a harmonica and slapped it on his knee and sang, "I got King Biscuit on my table,...I got King Biscuit on my table,..." and then he wa, waaaed on his harp for a moment, and then sang the refrain.

When Cotton's parents died, while he was still young, before he was a teen, Sonny Boy practically adopted his young protege, and he stayed with him until he met Muddy Waters, who wrote the original "Like A Rolling Stone." Cotton joined up with Muddy, he replaced Junior Wells in Howlin' Wolf's band. So before he was out of his teens, James Cotton had played with Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, three of the most influencial blues acts who helped shape early rock and roll.

Billy asked Cotton about what it was like playing with Howlin' Wolf and his band every night, and the name of Wolf's guitarist Huber Sumlin came up.

"Wasn't Hubert from Philly?" Billy asked. "Is Hubert Sumlin still alive?"

"He's not only alive, and from Philly," Cotton said, "Hubert's right outside that door right now waiting for us to wrap this up so he can say hello," and with that, he ushered Hubert Sumlin into the room and introduced us.

Dressed impecably, as I learned, as always, Sumlin smiled, "I ain't dead yet," he deadpanned, when told Billy had asked if he was still alive.

Then, an hour later, we were downstairs, sitting ringside, when Cotton asked Sumlin to join them on stage and Hubert borrowed the guitar of a young upstart, and whaled with Cotton.

Now Cotton's headlining the Cape May Jazz Fest. Being used to playing dingy blues bars, he'll be a little out of his element in the Lower Township school theater, but it will be a unique opportunity for the audience to hear him play in the acoustically sound room.

And while Howlin' Wolf is no longer with us, the Wolf Gang is, and Eddie Shaw, the Wolf's saxman, will also be part of this fest, playing Cabanas, traditionally the blues bar at every fest. While you have to get up and move around some of the time, I usually find myself spending most of my Cape May Jazz Fests at Cabanas, where they usually feature the blues bands.

Cabanas has an interesting history too. When I first came to town in the 70s it was a really unique joint called Gloria's, and owned by an eccentric older hippie who brought in really good bands. One of the bands featured regularly at Gloria's was Pacific Orchestra, who became sort of the house band. And upstairs, a women named Maureen opened a restaurant that would make waves for decades.

Gloria's changed with the ownership, and has had many configerations, but it's maintained a comfort level as a cabaret with live music, and seems to have some permenant good vibes.

Andrew Jr. Boy Jones will set the blues tone for this fest at Cabanas on Friday night. This Dallas guitarist, from the same hood as Stevie Ray, played with Charlie Musselwhite, argueably the second best living blues harpest, after Cotton.

If there's something going on as a sidebar at this fest, it's got something to do with the saxes. Odean Pope is a living legend they may do tributes to after he's gone, but here he is, playing sax at Aleatheas, along with his ace quartet - Carl Grubbs, Lee Smith, George Burton and Craig McIver.

You don't think of the sax so much of a blues instrument as jazz, but Odean Pope and Eddie Shaw - the legends, and Alan Weber and Randolph Spencer, the local guys, may change that thinking around. Weber is a Cape May saxman, who plays the Boiler Room at Congress Hall and the Copperfsh Restaurant, and will be leading the Saturday afternoon blues jam at Cabanas. Look for Cotton to stop by and jam.

Then Saturday night, while Cotton is whaling his harp over at the Lower Twp. School Theater, Eddie Shaw and his Wolf Gang will hold down Cabanas. Shaw, on sax, and Cotton on harp, used to play in the same band with Howlin' Wolf, and since Cotton's gigs are scheduled for 6:30 and 8:30, he finishes early and could make it down to Cabanas for Eddie Shaw's last set. And I'm sure he won't be able to just sit there and watch.

And I would hope Woody and Carol spring for Cotton's hotel room, and kept him in town, because he's just the kind of guy who would drop in on Juke Joint Central at Cabanas Sunday afternoon and make things really interesting.

Randolph Spencer is the sax man with Juke Joint Central, which also includes Greg Lamont on organ, Percy Smith on drums, David Cole on guitar and Dick Smith on vocals.

If it comes down to a choice between tributes to dead legends and checking out these living blues greats, you'll find me with the blues all weekend.

For more info or to buy tickets visit:

Full Lineup

Friday, April 17, 2009

8:00PM - 9:00PM Tribute to Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughn Theatre at Lower Regional High School

8:30PM - 10:00PM Odean Pope Aleatheas Restaurant-Inn of Cape May

9:00PM - 1:00AM Barbara King Carney's Other Room

9:00PM - 1:00AM Andrew Jr. Boy Jones Blues Cabanas

9:00PM - 1:00AM Sylvia Cuenca Group Carney's Main Room

10:00PM - 11:00PM Tribute to Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughn Theatre at Lower Regional High School

11:00PM - 12:00PM Odean Pope Aleatheas Restaurant-Inn of Cape May

Saturday, April 18, 2009

10:00AM - 1:00PM Workshops Cape May Elementary School

12:00PM - 1:00PM Tom Zmuda and the Thursday Night Jazz Carney's Main Room

12:00PM - 1:00PM Divine Jazz Combo Carney's Other Room

12:00PM - 4:00PM Saturday Jams Carney's Main Room

12:00PM - 4:00PM Saturday Jams Carney's Other Room

1:00PM - 4:00PM Alan Weber and Frenz Blues Jam Cabanas

5:00PM - 6:00PM CD Signing Party Boiler Room at Congress Hall

6:30PM - 7:30PM James Cotton Blues Band Theatre at Lower Regional High School

8:30PM - 9:30PM James Cotton Blues Band Theatre at Lower Regional High School

8:30PM - 10:00PM Sharon Clark Aleatheas Restaurant-Inn of Cape May

9:00PM - 1:00AM Mayra Casales Group Carney's Main Room

9:00PM - 1:00AM Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang Cabanas

9:00PM - 1:00AM Roni Ben-Hur Carney's Other Room

9:00PM - 1:00AM Michael Thomas Quintet Boiler Room at Congress Hall

11:00PM - 12:00PM Sharon Clark Aleatheas Restaurant-Inn of Cape May

Sunday, April 19, 2009

12:00PM - 4:00PM Sunday Jams Carney's Main Room

12:00PM - 4:00PM Sunday Jams Carney's Other Room

12:00PM - 1:00PM Little Jazz Giants Carney's Main Room

12:00PM - 1:00PM Young Lions Jazz Quartet Carney's Other Room

1:00PM - 4:00PM Juke Joint Central Cabanas

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