When you think of jazz, images of folks dancing in the streets and clubs of New Orleans instantly come to mind. But over the years, South Jersey has nurtured a love for this music that appears to have no plans of slowing down any time soon. And this week the OceanFirst Bank Jazz @ the Point Festival makes its way to Somers Point for four days of toe tapping good times.
The festival, which runs from Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 11-14, is presented by the South Jersey Jazz Society and features a total of 10 concerts in all, spread out over a variety of venues.
“We get people from all over coming in. Each year it amazes me,” says Joe Donofrio, artistic director for the South Jersey Jazz Society. “They know the artists, they know the music they are playing and they are respectful. It’s really a wonderful audience.”
Jazz does have some history in South Jersey, particularly in Atlantic City, going back all the way to the 1940s.
“Back then you had Club Harlem in A.C. There were maybe three or four different clubs that had all the big names you could think of: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald … It was very vibrant in terms of Atlantic City,”Donofrio explains.
Though those clubs are long gone, interest in the art of jazz has remained and appears to be on the incline as of recent years. “I think what’s happening is that with festivals like (Cape May’s) Exit Zero Jazz Fest plus Philly and all the other areas around us that are also doing jazz, it’s starting to really get a roll going,” he says.
One act that is likely to pack the crowds in is 3hree For Louis, a jazz sextet that will perform a tribute to the music of the late great Louis Armstrong. Their show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, at Gateway Playhouse promises to be one of the most exciting performances of the festival. Their band leader is Eddie Allen, a veteran jazz trumpeter who fell in love with the genre at a young age.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was actually introduced to jazz through cartoons,” says Allen. “If you look at all the early Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry and Hanna Barbera cartoons like ‘The Flintstones’, most of the music from that is either European classical or jazz based. So I didn’t realize it, but as I grew older and started playing trumpet, all the sudden that memory would kick in, oh, I remember this from that Bugs Bunny cartoon!’”
Allen moved on from simple cartoon memories to a successful career in jazz, and for the last decade 3hree For Louis has been going strong.
“Our first performance was at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens. Since then we have toured all over, even playing a few shows in New Jersey. So it will be great to come back and play some great music, hopefully spreading the kind of joy that Louis had in his music.”
While some jazz acts blend in originals with classic covers, when it comes to 3three For Louis, Allen sticks to the Louis Armstrong tunes.
“It’s strictly Louis Armstrong. But the great thing about it is that Louis Armstrong played a little bit of everything. So we are not trying to play his compositions, we’re playing selections that he played. For example, he played ‘Mack the Knife.’ He didn’t write it, but he played it a lot, and once he played it he put his signature on it, so people identify that with him. So that is what we are doing. We are touching on things that he touched.”
Allen makes sure to note that what they do will not be a straight knockoff of a Louis Armstrong performance. As many similarities as there are, there are some differences, too.
“There are three trumpeters in our group. We aren’t trying to imitate Louis’ style, but with any luck, people will hear just by the nature of the instrument, they will hear that there is a connection between what Louis did and what we are doing today.”