Love jazz? Love blues and bluegrass?
Come September 11, 12 and 13, if you’re in Kent County, you’ll be in music heaven.
The weekend’s Saturday epicenter is Mel Rapelyea’s Chestertown Jazz Festival in Wilmer Park and Mel’s genius is apparent. For his 15th festival, he’s bringing back superstars Sharón Clark, Stef Scaggiari and Frédéric Yonnet, and adding a dose of Caribbean heat.
Rapelyea predicts that more than 1,000 jazz fans will attend the festival and hopes many will make it a Friday-to-Sunday musical weekend.
The Campbell Brothers, veterans of the Hollywood Bowl and the Kennedy Center, will play the Garfield on Friday night with electric steel guitar blues, a sound with gospel roots that the group calls “sacred steel.” And on Sunday, Crow Vineyard’s first “Crowfest” will serve up The High and Wides’ foot-stomping bluegrass (and grape-stomping, too—hey, it’ll be harvest season, after all.)
When the noon-to-6:00 Jazz Festival kicks off on Saturday, smooth, sophisticated and much-loved jazz pianist Stef Scaggiari will open the show; it will be his sixth appearance since Rapelyea brought the festival to Chestertown. After Scaggiari’s applause dies down, drummer Joe McCarthy and the Grammy Award winning Afro Bop Alliance will take the stage and head, musically, for the Caribbean.
While the Afro Bop ensemble is running the show, the musical mood will be tropical and Cuban, all about salsa, conga and West Indies rhythms. The change of pace and outstanding musicianship, Rapelyea says, is sure to please.
And next up? Washington’s young and sultry vocalist Sharón Clark, who’s wowed Mainstay jazz lovers in a “Three Divas and the Redds” show. Rapelyea says he thinks Clark is great; that when he hears her sing he can’t help but feel he’s listening to the echo of Sarah Vaughn’s voice.
Then in a flash, Frédéric Yonnet, the French jazz, blues, funk phenomenon Rolling Stone called “a killer harmonica player,” will take over to close the show.
Yonnet and his brass ensemble nearly blew the roof off the Garfield when Rapelyea wooed him to Chestertown for Downrigging Weekend a few years ago, then brought him back for the 2008 Jazz Festival. This summer, between now and the Jazz Festival, Yonnet will tour with Stevie Wonder.
Rapelyea says he’s thrilled with the line-up and he expects his audience to top 1,000—especially if the weather cooperates. He says the festival attracts jazz enthusiasts year after year from Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore and DC, including loyal listeners of Washington’s jazz station, WPFW (89.3), and Baltimore’s WEAA (88.9).
“Those people know we give them top-quality jazz,” Rapelyea said. “They loved Stef for his suave style when he opened our first festival here in 1996, and they couldn’t get over Frédéric Yonnet when he played the festival in 2012—there’s just no way to describe how amazing he is.
Rapelyea continued his praise as he turned to Clark and the Afro Bop Alliance.
“When Chuck Redd put Sharón in his divas concert at the Mainstay, people thought she was truly great. I can’t tell how many of them have told me they think she’s the closest they’ve ever heard to Sarah Vaughn. I’m really glad we’re able to bring her back.”
Rapelyea says he’s delighted that he was able to put Joe McCarthy and the Afro Bop Alliance on the bill in September. McCarthy has a busy performance and recording schedule, and he’s in demand as an educator, as well. He’s now on the music faculty at Washington College, and also lectures at George Mason and Georgetown Universities.
“My inspiration for the Chestertown Jazz Festival came from attending the 50th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival,” Rapelyea explains. “The event was packed on the beach and on the water, in front of a huge stage at an old fort. There was sun, cool breezes and fantastic jazz all day, and it was my hope to duplicate that great improvisational jazz flavor in Chestertown. ”
Rapelyea believes that Chestertown and Kent County have earned a well-deserved reputation as a performing and visual arts destination, and credits his Jazz Festival committee and a community full of music activists for turning enthusiasm into a weekend full of great programs.
He repeats his hope that many people will want to attend the blues, jazz and bluegrass events throughout the September 11-13 weekend.
The Chestertown Jazz Festival is produced by Rapelyea and presented by the Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre. Jazz Festival tickets are $25, available for purchase on the Garfield website: www.garfieldcenter.org . The ticket price rises to $30 after August 1.