A Perfect Day for Jazz!


It was a perfect day – temps in the low 70s with the occasional light breeze and fluffy white clouds that came and went in a blue sky.  Some sat on folding chairs in the big tent where they were closer to the musicians.  Others brought canvas chairs or blankets and sat out on the lawn, enjoying the music and watching the ships sail by.  All in all, about 300 people came to the big tent by the Chester River for the 2017 Chestertown Jazz Festival.

Andy Bienstock, the jazz DJ of WYPR, was an ideal choice as master of ceremonies for the festival. A regular visitor to Chestertown, Bienstock relaxed and enjoyed the sun in between introducing acts. Before the final act, he was presented with a basket of Kent County goodies — including wine from Crow Vineyands and a hand-made cheese board from Bob Ortiz — by festival impressario Dr. Mel Rapelyea and Leslie Raimond of the Kent County Arts Council.

Mel Repelyea and Andy Bienstock

Founded and chaired by Rapelyea, the festival is co-sponsored by the Kent County Arts Council and the Garfield Center for the Arts. The first Chestertown Jazz Festival was held in 1996 though there has not been a festival every year.

The festival started at 11 a.m. and ran til 6 p.m. with a total of six acts in a wide variety of jazz styles.  Something for everyone.  There was a focus on youth this year with two of the groups featuring young musicians, one only 13 years old, but he played a mean upright bass that could be the envy of many professional musicians three or four times his age.

Friends of Faith






Starting out the day was the gospel group Friends of Faith. With six singers backed up by piano, bass, and drums, they brought high energy to the stage with their rendition of modern gospel songs.

Next up was Capital Focus Jazz Band, a group of young musicians playing traditional New Orleans style jazz.  It was impressive that musicians so young – several teenagers and no one over 25 – had such a strong feeling for music nearly a century old.  They played tunes from King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton along with some Swing standards and an original by one of the band members. Maya Collings, a high school student and the newest member of Capital Focus, played piano and sang “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” with the accompaniment of the whole band.  See their website for more information and to hear some of their music.

Capital Focus Jazz Band

Maya Collings of Capital Focus Jazz Band 

The John Thomas Quartet played a high-energy set of modern jazz standards including “Stella by Starlight” and “Solar”.  Tenor saxophonist Thomas was inspired by Joe Henderson, but he is equally adept at jazz and classical styles.  He has taught the saxophone at the college level and is currently the Director of Jazz  Ensembles at the Baltimore School of the Arts.  Thomas has also appeared with such popular groups as the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Glen Miller Orchestra, Ben Vereen, and Little Anthony and the Imperials.

John Thomas

The Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet  brought hip harmonies reminiscent of Manhattan Transfer or Lambert, Hendricks and Ross with their scatting interpretations of tunes like “Cloud Burst” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” 

The Washington-based Jazz Academy of Music is a big band consisting of high school students under the leadership of Paul Carr. The group of about twenty musicians appearing at the festival was only half of the whole band but it produced a fully-authentic big-band sound with impressive soloists. The other half of the full ensemble was performing at the Silver Spring Jazz Festival the same day.

Jazz Academy of Music

Gabriella Capizzi belts out “Angel Eyes” with the Jazz Academy of Music

The closing act was the Joey DeFrancesco Quartet featuring DeFrancesco on Hammond organ,  vocals, and trumpet.  Jason Brown on drums, Dan Wilson on guitar, and Troy Roberts on tenor sax covered the stylistic range from Thelonious Monk to Sam Cooke — but the focus was on funky, hip-shaking numbers that had the crowd on its feet. A perfect way to end a perfect day for jazz!

Photography by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell.

Joey DeFrancesco at the organ

Carolyn Jewell, WYPR Director of Membership, shows off new WYPR T-shirt.

MC Andy Bienstock is one of the founders of WYPR (Your Public Radio) and this year marks the 15th anniversary of the station.  They had a booth with a collage of photographs depicting the shows with their hosts and guests over the 15 years.  Attendees also got to see a preview of the new member gifts that the radio station will be offering in the coming year.  (They weren’t for sale; if you want one, you’ll have to wait for the next pledge drive!)

Big Red Bull

Walker Family

Several vendors and organizations were on-site to provide food and souvenirs.  There was delicious pit beef and pork from Big Red Bull catering while the Walker Family food truck offered a range of food and beverages. Crow Winery was there as well as Lockbriar Farms.  Lockbriar’s ice cream was one of the most popular items of the day.

Lockbriar Farms

Carol Mylander of Chestertown and Karen Fazekas of Annapolis enjoy the festival.

Nehemiah Williams – festival assistant

Chestertown Jazz Festival staff

The Sultana sailed regally by while the music played.

View of  the Chester River from the Jazz Festival at Wilmer Park in Chestertown, MD.


Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article

We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.