For 16 of the past 18 years, Cape May residents and visitors knew to expect two things when November arrived.
The first was a weekend of live performances by jazz musicians and singers at venues around the city. The second was Cape May Jazz Festival founders Woody Woodland, 81, and Carol Stone, 83, who spearheaded 33 festivals during a 16½-year period, smiling, working and wishing people well.
A jazz festival has returned to Cape May, but Woodland and Stone are not part of it.
The inaugural edition of the Exit 0 International Jazz Festival will be held from Nov.
9 to 11 at multiple places in Cape May, with Grammy Award winners Ramsey Lewis, Christian McBride and Nicholas Payton among the more than 100 musicians performing.
Michael Kline, 52, is the president of Spy Boy Productions, the company that will produce the new festival.
“People had gotten to the point, after 16 or 17 years, this is, I think, what the legacy was and is the legacy for Carol and Woody,” Cape May Mayor Ed Mahaney said. “People say, ‘The Cape May Jazz Festival, I used to go there. I went there.’ It had a certain ring to it, and that was good. Hopefully, those people will come back and get this thing established.”
The Cape May Jazz Festival was a hit from the start.
It started in April 1994 and immediately added a November edition, because the April festival attracted almost 2,000 people and finished with a more than $3,000 profit.
Over the years, performers included Clark Terry, Chuck Mangione, Herbie Mann, Pat Martino, Terence Blanchard and Spyro Gyra.
The jazz festival evolved from Cape May residents Stone and Woodland’s mom-and-pop organization to a nonprofit group with a board of directors.
“Admiration turned to resentment. The jealousy thing came in. They thought we were getting a lot of acclaim from the folks. I guess we were. We were the ones doing it... I went everywhere to promote Cape May. I went everywhere to shake hands,” said Woodland, who added he promoted the jazz festival and Cape May at other jazz festivals, cruise ships, nightclubs and elsewhere.
Stone and Woodland said The Friends of Cape May Jazz board of directors forced them out of the Cape May Jazz Festival after the spring 2010 edition. They staged the Philly Jazz Fest in September, but Woodland said it was the last festival they will organize.
“We just figured that’s enough. We’ve got the house up for sale,” said Woodland, who added they want to move to Valley Forge, Pa.
Woodland, who has been with Stone for 40 years and lived in Cape May for the past 22 years, looks back on the Cape May Jazz Festival as a great success that brought thousands of people and millions of dollars over all those years into Cape May. He is aware of the fact that the Exit 0 International Jazz Festival starts next month.
“They are trying to piggyback on what I already established over 16 years,” said Woodland, who along with Stone is a retiree.
A West Cape May resident, Kline represents 16 international jazz artists on a worldwide basis with his business, Michael Kline Artists. Some of the artists Kline has been the agent for have performed at the Cape May Jazz Festival in the past. Kline decided this would be something he would take on when the jazz festivals did not happen last year.
Kline has produced live music previously, but he has not produced a jazz festival before. Spy Boy Productions is his company.
“When I lived in New Orleans, I produced a series in a conjunction with a performing arts center down there, the Center for Contemporary Arts. We did a series called ‘Jazz America’ for three or four years,” said Kline, who did productions with WWOZ.-FM 90.7 in New Orleans.
Kline also is thinking of two festivals a year, but both of them may not be jazz.
“We are definitely looking at plans and moving forward with plans for next June, taking the components that we have in place now, Convention Hall as the main stage, music in the clubs, but also adding, a main outdoor stage on the beach,” Kline said.
Kline also said that one of the things he will try to do differently is bring in both younger artists and try to attract a younger audience.
“For jazz in general and for music festivals in general, you have to appeal to a younger audience. You have to find a way to make inroads there. You do it with programming. We put some younger bands in there (at Cabanas Beach Bar and Grill),” Kline said. Flyers have been distributed to staff at restaurants throughout Cape May County, he said.
Two of the groups booked for the Exit 0 International Jazz Festival, the Pedrito Martinez Group and The Stooges Brass Band, have played at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee, one of the major popular music festivals in the country.
Carney’s was one of the venues that hosted every edition of the Cape May Jazz Festival and will be involved with the Exit 0 International Jazz Festival. Joe Carney, the owner and operator of Carney’s, said Kline is invested in the festival and a took a chance privately to make the jazz festival a reality again.
“The previous jazz festival was very special to Cape May, and at one time, it was governed by two people named Carol Stone and Woody Woodland. I’m a big believer that the most effective form of government is dictatorship. That’s what they had at one time, and then, when it got to a board level, the board was questioning what they were doing and how they were doing it,” Carney said.
Ultimately, it was the demise of the Cape May Jazz Festival, Carney said.
“Now, when it’s privately owned and operated again by Michael Kline, I believe the festival is in good hands,” said Carney, who added he is very much behind Kline.
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