Havre de Grace swings to blues and jazz with inaugural weekend festival

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The challenge facing the organizers of next year’s Jazz & Blues Fest in Havre de Grace will be to top this year’s inaugural festival, during which visitors to the city could experience three days of performances by blues and jazz singers and musicians, documentaries and even workshops for youths with performers.

“We set the bar high; the content was so extraordinary, it’s hard to top it,” festival chair Suzanne Chadwick said Sunday night, following a concert by festival closer the Cab Calloway Orchestra — led by the jazz and swing legend’s grandson, C. Calloway Brooks — at the Havre de Grace High School auditorium.

The Nico Sarbanes Trio, led by vocalist and trumpeter Nico Sarbanes, opened for the Calloway orchestra. Sarbanes, a Baltimore native, shared memories of meeting Cab Calloway’s daughter, Havre de Grace resident Camay Murphy, as a child, and he praised organizers of the festival.

“We’re just so happy we could be a part of it,” Sarbanes said. “It’s a wonderful honor for us; we’re very thankful for that opportunity.”

Sarbanes, who currently lives in New York City, said he met Murphy when he was in elementary school and was taking part in a summer camp program at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center in Baltimore.

He said that it is because of Murphy and Christopher Calloway Brooks “that Cab’s legacy is alive and well.”

Edgewood resident Isom Brown, 68, attended the show Sunday with his wife, Valerie. Brown said, during the break between the Sarbanes trio opener and the main event with the Calloway orchestra, that he had been a fan of Cab Calloway. He recalled seeing Calloway, as well as a number of other famous blues and jazz performers, appear in the 1980 hit movie “The Blue Brothers.”

“I never saw him in person, so I figured this was as close as I’m going to get,” Brown said of the Calloway orchestra.

Another Calloway grandson, Peter Brooks, took to the stage before the performance. Introduced by emcee Tony Pagnotti — former meteorologist and broadcaster with WMAR and WBFF in Baltimore — Brooks spoke about community efforts to preserve Calloway’s former residence on Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore. Brooks stressed that the campaign is ultimately about “what you value in American history.”

Bandleader Christopher Brooks, dressed in several colorful suits and a wide-brimmed hat, went through a repertoire of his grandfather’s hits, including the classic “Minnie the Moocher.” He introduced the orchestra members, asking the musicians to stand if they had played with his grandfather or in the bands of other jazz and swing greats such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and Glenn Miller.

The majority of the musicians had played with at least one of those greats, based on the number of times they stood.

“So maybe that’s why we sound so good,” Brooks said, laughing. “Oh, yes.”

Brooks also brought out guest vocalists and dancers —Alexandra Hutchinson and Dylan Santos, of the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York, were among the guest performers. Sarbanes, whom Brooks called “absolutely wonderful,” also performed a number

Brooks met with fans after the show, as well as family members, including his mother, Camay Murphy. Pagnotti called Murphy “the grand dame of Havre de Grace.”

“I just love jazz music, and this was a great show,” Pagnotti said after the performance.

Rebekah Flower, a sophomore at HHS, plays clarinet in the school’s marching band. She and some of her Warrior Pride bandmates, as well as faculty members and other adult leaders, sold snacks and drinks during the Sunday night show.

Flower, 16, said she had not been a strong fan of blues and jazz before the festival, but the event “definitely changed my mind a little bit — it’s good music.”

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