Exit Zero

You’ve got to love a place that you get to by exiting the parkway at exit zero (or, if you’re coming from the other direction, by ferry). Cape May is a Victorian beachfront village at the southern tip of New Jersey. It is the inspiration for the fictional town of Port Salmon, the setting for my next book, Death and White Diamonds. After the book is released in January, I want to do a photo essay of the real places in Cape May that inspired scenes in the book. But that wasn’t the purpose of this trip. We were in Cape May for the Exit Zero Jazz Festival. Friday evening, we heard Dee Dee Bridgewater performing at Convention Hall on the Cape May boardwalk. Bridgewater is an extraordinary jazz vocalist in the tradition of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

On Saturday we headed to the Emlen Physick Estate, a Victorian estate in historic Cape May and the site for a festival within the festival: Jazz at the Estate. The all-day event included a craft fair, fresh seafood, Tito’s handmade vodka and four exceptional jazz performances on the estate’s outdoor stage.

The opening act on Saturday was a 17 year-old violin virtuoso named Daisy Castro. If you are familiar with the music of Django Reinhardt, Ms. Castro plays with a style and skill that has not been heard since the 1930s and the Quintette du Hot Club de France. She is, I think, going to be a star, soon, and for a very long time.

Saturday’s second performance was a big band, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, playing jazz classics from Benny Moten, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington and more. If you watch Boardwalk Empire on HBO, you’re familiar with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.

We took a short break from jazz to spend some time in sand chairs on the beach, watching the dolphins swimming just offshore. And then it was back to Convention Hall Saturday evening for trumpeter, Roy Hargrove. After an amazing performance by Hargrove, we walked down the boardwalk to one of the late night clubs, for the last set of the evening by vocalist Kellylee Evans.

And then, Sunday morning, because the universe works in mysterious ways, we found ourselves unexpectedly having breakfast with Kellylee at Congress Hall. We chatted over breakfast about creativity and creative process, but also about dog sledding and strawberries and family, about Cape May and Ottowa. So I can tell you that she is not only a remarkable jazz vocalist, she is also a delightful young lady.

Sunday afternoon put us back on the beach, for sun and sand and reading and then it was back to Convention Hall for the final headline performance, a phenomenal night in New Orleans featuring Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

In the midst of all that sand and surf, of jazz, both hot and cool, handmade vodka and fresh seafood, I had just enough internet access to receive an email from my publisher, who was happy with the manuscript revisions I sent to him on Wednesday.

So go ahead and set your GPS for exit zero. You won’t be disappointed.




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