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Cape May … And All that Jazz

Visit Exit Zero and experience the legendary music, culture and energy of a fiery jazz festival

The legendary Louis Armstrong once said, “If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know.” Although most of us will never become cool cats like Louie, Dizzy, or Duke, we still can appreciate and groove to the tunes of a smorgasbord of music at the Exit Zero Jazz Festival. Featuring greats like Winton Marsalis, the bi-annual event has put Cape May on the jazz festival map elbowing its way in between New Orleans and Newport.

 Why Cape May, NJ?

November marks the fifth year for Exit Zero. So, how did a 3-day jazz festival end up in Cape May, NJ? The short answer – location and memories. Michael Kline, Exit Zero Jazz Festival producer, spent many a summer working in and enjoying shore life in Cape May. His love of music took him to New Orleans and when he returned to his Jersey roots in 2005, the idea of marrying jazz and the shore became a reality in 2012. And, like any good address in the Garden State, the festival was named after a play on the “What exit are you off of?” question – since Cape May is the very last exit on the Garden State Parkway going south.

Kline explains how Cape May and jazz suit each other, “That we are at the edge of the world vibe is prevalent in Cape May. You’re on an island; the road ends and the water begins. That feeling of freedom and intimacy is special and it serves both the audience and musicians well.”

Ironically, the first Exit Zero took place in November 2012 -- only 10 days after Hurricane Sandy. Kline thought about postponing to the spring because he thought the last thing people wanted to do was travel to Cape May. Despite 24-hour doom and gloom reports from CNN about the demise of the Jersey shore, Kline decided to “…forge ahead and let people know we were here.” It worked, and continues to do so having established itself as a jazz festival viable venue.

Daunting is no doubt what it takes to put on a show like Exit Zero, and Kline manages to pull that off twice a year, spring and fall, without hitting a sour note (pun intended). Life is a learning experience and Exit Zero evolves each time -- much like the music itself. If Kline had a crystal ball, he would like to see Exit Zero in five years celebrating its 10th Anniversary – bringing a jazz force to be reckoned with to the South Jersey shore.

Build It and They Shall Come

Since its inception five years ago, the Exit Zero Jazz Festival transforms Cape May into a jazz mecca twice a year as fans and musicians make their pilgrimage to the sleepy town by the sea. This year, the Festival offers more than 30 sets of jazz, blues, and R&B acts. To accommodate the music, Cape May goes from gingerbread Victorian to Bourbon Street cool, setting up venues on stages and clubs throughout the seaside resort.

With first-rate performances ranging from award winning and critically acclaimed to local favorites, the Festival has quickly become an attraction for world class musicians as well as jazz music mavens. Due to the festival’s popularity and the need for larger performance space, the Schmidtchen Theater in Cape May has been added as a venue along with the Cape May Convention Hall and a variety of local clubs and restaurants.

Sing Us a Song, You’re the Piano Man/Woman

Throughout the jazz weekend, music lovers take in the Cape May beachfront while coming and going between clubs and hall venues. Headlining the festival this time is Winton Marsalis described as the most outstanding jazz musician and trumpeter of his generation, a brilliant composer, and an advocate for the arts and education. The nine-time Grammy winner and the recipient of the first jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music is the icing on the Exit Zero festival cake. Marsalis is a performer extraordinaire and a jazz icon – knowing it, living it, and giving it. According to Marsalis, “Jazz comes from our way of life, and because it's our national art form, it helps us to understand who we are.”

Making her debut at the Exit Zero Festival this fall is Grammy winner, Cecile McLorin Salvant. Kline and his promoters are really excited to introduce her to the festival this year because “…she is a special human being and an incredibly talented artist.” The New York Times recently described her talents, “If anyone can extend the lineage of the Big Three -- Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, it is this 23-year-old virtuoso.”

In addition to headliners, the festival offers more than 30 sets of critically acclaimed and talented artists in the jazz and R&B category including Omar Sosa JOG Trio, Pat Martino Organ Trio + Horns, Frank Bey Blues Revue, and Philadelphia Funk Authority.

Jim Tuohy, a Ventnor resident and lover of all things musical – including jazz – not only enjoys the talent at the Exit Zero festivals but has sponsored acts such as Amerouche – a flamenco, gypsy music, jazz blend for Exit Zero in the past. Tuohy feels that the bands “…love the Cape May festival because it not only gives them a gig, but in many cases they get a place to stay, a meal, and an opportunity to catch other acts.”

Take Five!

Composed by Paul Desmond and performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1959, the "Take Five" jazz piece became the biggest-selling jazz single ever. It’s simple rhythm, cool beats, and instrumentals scream out, “I am jazz!”  So, if you like “Take Five” and other jazz hits, the bi-annual Exit Zero Jazz Festivals and its strong and diverse lineups are for you.  As Kline predicts for the Fall 2016 show, “I told some of the club owners to order extra door hinges, the energy in the clubs is going to blow the doors off!”

Cool, man! Cool!