The seventh autumn edition of the Exit Zero Jazz Festival will turn Cape May into a jazz utopia from Thursday to Sunday, Nov. 8 to 11. Exit 0 on the Garden State Parkway will groove with more than 40 sets of world-class musicians appearing on the festival’s main stages, clubs and the streets of Cape May. Festival producer Michael Kline has organized a top-notch lineup of Grammy winners, NEA Jazz Masters and an eclectic mix of music.
“Jazz concerts aren’t like other types of concerts. We don’t have a set playlist that we’ve been rehearsing for months, like classical or rock concerts. I will figure out what to play based on the vibe of the audience,” says acclaimed, Grammy-winning musician Marcus Miller, who is a featured headliner at the Exit Zero Jazz Festival.
Considered to be one of the most influential musicians of our time, Miller is a preeminent bassist, multi-instrumentalist, producer and a genuinely nice guy. A two-time Grammy winner, as well as a Victoire du Jazz (France) and Edison Award for Lifetime Achievement in Jazz (Holland) recipient and UNESCO-appointed Artist for Peace, the legendary Miller will take the stage at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Schmidtchen Theater Music Connects Stage. “I’m really looking forward to presenting my music to the people of South Jersey,” says Miller, adding that as a New York native, he’s traveled all over the world and visited places from Africa to Istanbul to Japan, but he’s never been to South Jersey.
Miller has worked with and backed up some of the greatest and most-recognized artists in the world. Luther Vandross, David Sanborn, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey, Elton John, Aretha Franklin and Miles Davis are just a few of the greats with whom Miller has played. “Working with Miles Davis was a huge experience for me, he was such a huge influence,” Miller says. Miller also played bass for Roberta Flack when Vandross sang backup and Miller even helped Vandross record a demo — then watched as his friend top the charts. Although, Miller recalls, it took about a year and a few labels initially turned Vandross down. “It was incredible to see my buddy grow into one of the biggest R&B artists ever,” Miller says proudly.
Miller also scores films, most recently the film “Marshall” based on Thurgood Marshall’s life, starring Chadwick Boseman. Lately though, Miller has put the focus back on his own music, and just released a new album “Laid Black,” which brings a contemporary feel to his signature style with musical influences drawn from modern, urban musical styles.
“My band is incredible, they’re a bunch of young guys — 25, 26, 27 — and they are just monsters. I’m going to unleash them on the audience,” Miller jokes. At Exit Zero, Miller plans to play some from his new album, “But, I will also play some of my previous stuff and I’ll probably pull out a song or two that I wrote for Miles Davis when I was working with him. But, then again, I will figure that out based on the vibe of the audience,” Miller says.
If you’d like to get to know Miller before his show, you can catch him 6 p.m. every Sunday on his Sirius radio show, “Miller Time with Marcus Miller,” on channel 67. It is rebroadcast at midnight on Tuesdays.
Miller is not the only Grammy-winner that will headline Exit Zero Jazz Festival. Dianne Reeves, revered as one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time, will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Schmidtchen Theater Music Connects Stage. Reeves is a NEA Jazz Master recognized for her vocal improvisational dexterity and unique jazz and R&B style. Reeves has won five Grammy awards, an honorary doctorate of music from Julliard and was most recently named a 2018 National Endowment of the Arts’ Jazz Master.
The festivities kick off 7 p.m. Thurday with A Night in New Orleans with Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers’ benefit concert for Music Connects, a nonprofit, performance and educational outreach organization. Ruffins is a New Orleans’ native that knows how to start a party. This jazz trumpeter, singer and composer draws his influence from Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan and is guaranteed to bring a bit of New Orleans to Cape May.
This multi-venue jazz festival will feature two headline concerts (Miller and Reeves) in Schmidtchen Theater on the Music Connects Stage powered by Atlantic City Electric, while featured concerts will be held in Cape May Convention Hall. Additionally, stages are set at several clubs, hotels and inns throughout Cape May. While this many performances can seem overwhelming, Kline has created several ticketing options to accommodate all types of festival-goers.
“We want to not only offer a world-class cultural experience in Cape May, but also a festival with a small-town musical community feel to it, where people of all ages are able to celebrate the spirit and creative energy the festival generates,” Kline says.