Camden’s Sunset Jazz Series a summer mainstay

You don’t like to reflect on it too much but when you’re out there under the stars and a bright moon with the breeze off the Delaware blowing across your tootsies, it’s easy to think that you’re at Newport or Cape May or some other music festival someplace other than one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the country (their words, not mine).  But every year when I venture out to Wiggins Park and the Riverstage, I’m amazed at just that.

Lionel Cordew on drums with Ron jenkins on bass

Lionel Cordew on drums with Ron jenkins on bass

But politics and “per-capita” ratings notwithstanding, every year for more than twenty years through the generosity of the sponsors listed below, Camden’s Sunset Jazz Series has slowly but surely been making a name for itself in the realm of open-air jazz entertainment.  And that’s as it should be since New Jersey  is a state fraught with musical talent and history’; the entire Delaware Valley, for that matter.

On Monday night August 19th, The finale was a triple bill featuring Chuck Loeb, Everette Harp and Jeff Lorber.  They were accompanied by Lionel Cordew and Ron Jenkins, both hailing out of New York.  The long-time MC for the night’s performance was Earl Brown, host of Jazz Journeys.   As a rule, shows last anywhere from a little over an hour to almost two hours.  Monday night’s performance was in the latter range as they were still going strong when I vacated the premises at 945.   And as it was with more than a few shows, there were CD’s for sale.  In fact, there’s often a meet-and-greet afterwards where you can get your newly purchased discs signed by the performers.  You don’t get that at the Susquehanna Center, I bet.

And as for the music, well, what can you say?  Performances are always top-notch and professional, the performers happy to be playing for the crowd.  New music is often showcased, as was the case that evening.  The third song in was the title track of Jeff Lorber’s new CD, Hacienda, a typical “driving” and funky piece and what we’ve come to expect from the Philadelphia native.  Everette Harp moved the audience at two separate points of the performance; first when speaking of his father and his smooth jazz composition dedicated to him, All Jazzed Up and No Where To Go  and second when he later spoke about the untimely death of his mentor, George Duke.  You could hear the sadness in his voice, it was that palpable.   Chuck Loeb was his usual high-energy self, playing like a closeted hard rock guitarist from the Fillmore district.   His accompaniment with Harp over the evening, when the two played in tandem, was truly something to hear and see.  And their band mates, Cordew on drums and Jenkins on bass guitar, were stellar, as is usually the case.

That was over a week ago and I’m already jonesing for the start of next season.  And truthfully, there’s always some anxiety because I know that such quality entertainment can’t come cheap.  But every year for the past two decades plus, the Camden County Freeholders, along with a host of other benefactors, gets it done and puts another star-studded event together for the county and area residents.  Philly has discovered us as more than a few people travel across the Ben Franklin to spend an evening in the glen, next to the USS New Jersey.  But that’s cool as it puts Camden on the  map, in a positive sense.

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These past years, I’ve seen some amazing players; Eddie Palmieri and his Latin jazz septet, Catherine Russell, Christian McBride, Dave Valentin, the Yellowjackets, Average White Band, Tower of Power, Camden natives Cintron, War and Buckwheat Zydeco, just to name a few.  In fact, the list is so mindbogglingly long that I’ve forgotten many of those I’ve seen over the years.  So without further ado, I’d like to thank the following sponsors for another stellar summer of music;  The Camden County Freeholders, Comcast, WRTI 90.1FM,  TD Bank, Camden County College, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, World Cafe, City of Camden Parking Authority and WXPN.    Without you, none of this would be possible and we’d all be left out, all dressed up with no where to go on a summer night.  Here’s hoping for another stellar year in 2014.


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