Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cape May Jazz in Distress

Carol Stone and Woody Woodland. (Cape May Herald Photo)

I was there at the conception, when Carol and Woody started the Cape May Jazz Fest. I remember them sitting at the Shire Tavern and talking about the festival they experienced in Delaware and having a vision of a similar affair in Cape May.

I lived at Cape May Point at the time, and saw many great jazz shows at Wayne Persanti's Shire Tavern, where Woody sometimes worked as a doorman, checking IDs and evicting unruly patrons.

I remember the first few events, not even festivals, but just one or two show events and then watched it grow.

There were some really terrific shows, and some festivals that stand out as truly great events in the history of Cape May. Then being invited back to Carol and Woody's home for a private party on Sunday night afterwards, when many of the performers performed again in their living room around the baby grand piano. It was an honor to be there and now it is very sad that they have been forced out of the organization they gave birth to. They were to be honored at this fall's festival in November, but now there won't be a festival in November, as the organization reorganizes.

Carl and Woody were originally from Philadelphia, where Woody served in the city administration but appreciated good music, especially jazz, as did Carol. When they started the festival they drew first on the fine acts they knew as friends from either the Philadelphia clubs or the Shire Tavern, where Piersanti, a former Philadelphia policeman, made jazz his motif.

Among the acts who played the Shire that I recall are sax and bagpipe player Rufus Harley, Monette Sudler, the first lady of Jazz guitar, Grover Washington's band, Avila, a South American Aztec and Pat Martino, who spent one summer with the house band on his rebound from a brain anuraism. He had lost much of his memory and had to slowly teach himself his own songs. A decade later he came back to Cape May as the headliner at the Jazz Fest, selling out the Convention Hall.

The last time I saw Carol and Woody was at the Bubba Mac Blues Fest at the Atlantic City baseball stadium, and they often traveled to other jazz and blues festivals to scout out new acts and see what was hot, and then book them for the Cape May fest. The Cape May Jazz Fest was such a success they began to hold it twice a year, in the spring and fall when the hotel rooms and restaurants were usually empty, and thus providing a boost to the local economy in the off-shoulder seasons.

They also had good rapport with the local business owners, especially the bars and restaurants that featured the festival acts, like the Shire, Carney's and Congress Hall.

The Shire was eventually sold and its liquor license moved to Congress Hall, where Curtis Bashaw brings in many of the types of acts that played the Shire. Bashaw also sat on the board of directors of the Jazz Fest and supported it in any way he could.

The late Mrs. Carney, at Carney's on Beach Drive also supported the Jazz Festival in a big way, providing both of her rooms and stages for the festival for the whole weekend. While the bartenders complained that the jazz fans were a little more stiff and tight with their change than the rock & rollers, the Carney family understood how important the jazz festival was for the entire town. I remember sitting next to Mrs. Carney by the kitchen door in the Other Room, and her saying she thought the Jazz Fest was wonderful and pretty much gave Carol and Woody carte blanche.

The Cape May Jazz Fest brought some terrific headliners to Cape May, including Chuck Mangone, Mose Allison and other popular and award winning acts, and introduced us to some previously unknown but special talents like Brian Trainer.

Carol and Woody didn't just bring in big acts from out of town, they also showcased the local talent, especially the leader of the Cape May Coast Guard band, Pat Martino's protege Geno White, the Cape May Diamonds blues band and Harp on Sark - the barback and candleman who lived above the Shire.

And many thanks to the Gazzette's Bill Barlow and Jack Fichter of the Herald for reporting on the Festival's status in their stories archived below.

Bill Kelly

Jazz Festival reorganizes, struggles with debt

Written by Bill Barlow

No fall festival planned

Thursday, 15 September 2011 03:08

CAPE MAY – As 2011 began, the Cape May Jazz Festival touted its award for the state’s favorite music festival and looked forward to its 35th festival in Cape May that spring.

But according to several sources the festival is now struggling to reorganize and dig out from a mountain of debt.

Just how much debt is hard to confirm, but there will be no fall jazz festival this year, according to local sources. Members of the festival’s 10-member board of directors hope to have a jazz event and fundraiser in November instead, and to resurrect the festival in April for the annual spring event.

Linda Steenrod, a member of the board of directors and a former Cape May City councilwoman, said this week that there would be no fall festival, and that the board was in the process of reorganizing.

“We’re trying to get some very critical financial things straightened out,” she said. “The board kind of dissolved a couple of times, but now it’s been reinvigorated with new blood, and people who are really committed.”

The issue comes down to money and paperwork, she said. Steenrod could not give a figure for how much the festival owes, but said there are also issues with audits and paperwork owed to the state.

“The festival has kind of neglected a few things. We have obligations that need to be fulfilled,” she said.

“Substituting a single special event for the full festival this November will allow us to revamp administration and redirect marketing efforts,” said Oscar Johnson, president of the Friends of Cape May Jazz board, in a prepared statement this week. “We anticipate returning in April 2012 with a full format and the sort of exciting musical experience the Festival has become known for.”

For now, there is no answer at the main number for the Cape May Jazz Festival, and the festival’s website has not been updated since the spring festival.

This spring saw fewer venues for the festival, but at the time organizers indicated that attendance was up, and headliner Kevin Eubanks received good reviews, as did other performers.
The board has appointed an audit committee that will work on finances, and try to get a clearer picture of the festival’s financial situation. Steenrod said she could not give any information on the festival’s finances, but she acknowledged that the situation is serious, an assessment confirmed by several other sources.

One person familiar with the festival, who asked not to be identified, said the event got hit by a “perfect storm of problems.” The festival’s main venue, the Cape May Convention Hall, was shut down in 2008 over fears for the stability of the floor, while at the same time the economy went into recession. That meant that grant money dried up, and so did donations, while attendance dropped when fewer people could afford tickets.

Convention Hall has since been demolished. Cape May plans to build a new Convention Hall, but it has not been available as a venue for years. Festival organizers participated in creating plans for a new hall, along with residents and other organizations, but the building had long been home to the festival’s headliners.

The first step in rebuilding the festival will be to get a detailed picture of the current state of the festival’s finances, and then to go to the festival’s sponsors to try to convince them to continue to support the festival, according to those familiar with the situation.

Two of the event’s biggest supporters are Bank of America and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

A spokeswoman from the State Council on the Arts passed questions on to festival director Salvador Riggi.

Attempts to contact Riggi were not successful. The number given for him at the jazz festival’s website was disconnected. The Council on the Arts spokeswoman, Allison Tratner, said he had told her he remains the director and that he would contact the Gazette to discuss the future of the festival, but after several days there was no call or message from Riggi.

Other sources had indicated that he was no longer with the festival, and Steenrod would not say one way or another.

“I would rather not get into that,” Steenrod said.

No one from Bank of America was available for interview this week, but the bank released a prepared statement from Bob Doherty, the Bank of America New Jersey president:
“We are proud to include the Cape May Jazz Festival among the many wonderful arts programs we support here in New Jersey. For years, the festival has been a destination for jazz fans of all ages and backgrounds, and serves as an important economic driver for Cape May and surrounding communities. We look forward to an update from festival organizers on next year’s program, and hope they are able to build on past success.”

Bank of America has been the festival’s lead sponsor since 2002. On Monday, the bank announced an ongoing restructuring that will mean cutting some 30,000 jobs, with the intention of cutting billions in spending over the next few years, but bank officials gave no indication that would affect future giving to the festival.

A Bank of America spokesman said questions about the fall festival should be asked of the local organizers.

Cape May officials have long praised the festival and described it as both an important part of the local community and as a means of bringing visitors to Cape May inns and restaurants in the off season.

The festival was founded in 1994, spearheaded by Carol Stone and Woody Woodland, who had the idea after returning from another festival the year before. The two remained a major force in the festival through much of its history, and fended off at least one attempt to remove them from the board, which took place in 2008 when they were out of the country.

Last year, the two founders resigned from the board. This week, Steenrod said that they resigned voluntarily, but in various interviews after the resignation, Stone and Woodland said they were forced off the board.

Festival officials said at the time that a change was necessary to keep grants coming, because the agencies that give the grants were skeptical of organizations in which the founders remained in charge, and of organizations in which there was no clear line of succession.

Steenrod praised the festival founders this week.

“They did a wonderful thing. I hope they will support the efforts to reorganize the festival, because it’s their legacy,” she said.

Steenrod said she joined the festival’s board of directors two or three years ago, but said she had been involved, stepped down, and rejoined the board more than once. She said there are very committed members of the board now, and that they recently voted new by-laws for the organization.
The former board “fell by the wayside,” Steenrod said.

The new board includes some former members and some new people, she said, including some who had served on the board before. There is also flexibility in the number of board members, she said. Right now, there are 10 members, but it could be increased or reduced as needed under the bylaws.
“I told Carol (Stone), I don’t know how to run a festival,” she said, citing Stone’s years of experience with the festival. “I’m doing this from the heart, because I love the festival and I don’t want to see it dissolve.”

She said she hopes there will be a spring Cape May Jazz Festival come April.
“It took a number of years to get to this point, and its going to take a number of years to make it right,” Steenrod said.

Cape May Jazz Festival Founders Say They Were Forced Out of Organization

Arts and Entertainment |
Fri, 10/01/2010
By Jack Fichter

CAPE MAY — It’s like a long popular tune that suddenly is played with a sour note.

The founders of the Cape May Jazz Festival Carol Stone and Woody Woodland resigned from the organization in June.

Woodland told the Herald they were forced out of the organization they founded.
“The group that took it over seemingly want to discredit us for the 17 years of success that we’ve had,” he said.

Woodland said their photos were removed from the Cape May Jazz Festival website by the board of directors. He said he believed the board began to resent Stone and himself.

“They just got sick and tired of Woody and Carol getting the credit for this,” said Woodland. “We gave them more credit than they deserved because they didn’t do anything.”

“I can give our volunteers more credit than the board,” he continued.
Board meetings were called in secret when Woodland and Stone were out of the country on vacation, he said.

Woodland said board members treated Stone with a great deal of disrespect and meetings were punctuated by angry outbursts. Anything Stone suggested was shot down by the board, said Woodland.

He said he believed racism and sexism was involved with their ousting from the organization. At some point, he and Stone would have retired from the festival and helped with a smooth succession but now that won’t happen, said Woodland.
He said he feels the board is “trashing our legacy.”

“I was the cause of thousands of people coming here spending millions of dollars here,” said Woodland.

He said Stone had the expertise to handle many details while he publicized the event. Woodland said they visited other jazz festivals, clubs and churches in other cities to attract an audience to Cape May.

Woodland said the board turned the festival staff against them.

“We gave them their jobs and got them health insurance and they literally turned them against us,” he said.

Stone said it was decided at an April board meeting, the jazz festival’s headlining band would play at the Grand Hotel of Cape May in November rather than bus the audience to the auditorium at Lower Cape May Regional High School. She said the new board members have since moved the headlining show to the gymnasium of Star of the Sea School in Cape May.

Woodland said Cape May Jazz Festival President Gene Boyd admitted to another newspaper a conspiracy was in place to remove them from the board.

Jazz Festival Board member Lois Smith told the Herald the board wanted to give Woodland and Stone “the privilege of being advisors but step back and let the board make some decisions.”

“We had nothing to say and as a result our funding was falling,” she said.
Smith said funding sources were aware how well the festival had operated but said some adjustments were needed and they preferred to work with a “board-generated operation.”

Smith said Woodland and Stone made the decision to resign, “nobody told them to get out.”

She said their names are still in brochures for the festival as founders.
Jazz Festival Executive Director Sal Riggi said when he took office two years ago, he made it clear there had to be a transition of the organization from “founder run to board run.” He said an attempt to remove Woodland and Stone in 2008 when they were out of the country, by a previous executive director, was done in an inappropriate manner. He said the bottom line was most sponsors do not want to see an organization run by founders after about 10 years of operation.
Riggi said when he became director, Stone and Woodland were agreeable to a change.

“After about a year they began sending signals that they did not believe a transition was necessary,” he said.

Riggi said he made a lot of changes in fiscal practices. He said Stone was conducting business without consulting the board and was resistant to changes being implemented.

Riggi said he wrote a financial stabilization plan when he served as treasurer to strengthen the organization. He said sponsors and the state raved about the plan, which included a transition over a two-year period.

“Carol and Woody did a great job putting this organization together, it is their baby,” said Riggi. “The hardest transition is going from founder to board run.”
He said the board made it clear after the April festival the transition would be completed at the June reorganization meeting. Riggi said Woodland and Stone fought the matter.

Riggi said he has their letter of resignation. He said the plan was Woodland and Stone would step down from the board and have emeritus status and be honored at the November jazz festival.

Riggi said Woodland and Stone sent letters to sponsors, the state and musicians saying they were forced out of the organization and accused the board of being racist. He said the matter may be turned over to attorneys if it continues.

Riggi said state and corporate sponsorship of the festival has increased recently.
“Long term, we’re going to come out much stronger,” he said.

Jazz Festival President Gene Boyd said Stone and Woodland did not want to live with new financial procedures being put in place and resigned.

“It was kind of run like a sole proprietorship and it really can’t be because it is not a sole proprietorship, it is a not-for-profit 501C3 corporation, so there are things we need to adhere to,” he said.

He said Stone and Woodland gave the organization a great foundation to build on.

“We’re not opposed to them having a jazz festival but we know it will never reach the magnitude which we established,” said Woodland.

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