Chestertown Jazz Festival brings music to community members

By Delaney Runge

Copy Editor

“Take Five,” reads the poster for the 2023 Chestertown Jazz Festival hung in downtown Chestertown, displaying details for the annual event.

According to the press release for the event on the Garfield Center for the Arts website, “‘Take Five.’ It could mean a five-minute break from a busy schedule, but often we think of the musical wonder that is the ‘Dave Brubeck’s Quartet’ famous jazz standard.”

The festival comprised of two events. Its first performance, held on Thursday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m., was Jazz Cruise hosted by The Mainstay in Rock Hall. This attraction began on High Street and featured Ronnie Leigh, a jazz vocalist.

Continuing the festivities, on Saturday, Sept. 9 from noon to 6 p.m., Garfield Center for the Arts held the annual Chestertown Jazz Festival in Wilmer Park.

Headlining the festival were The Brubeck Brothers, who have been “making more music together practically all of their lives,” according to the festival press release. Other performers included Gospel Shepards, Eric Byrd Trio, and Cecily Bumbray Quartet.

Dr. Melvin “Mel” Rapelyea, producer and organizer of the Jazz Festival since its beginning in 1996, attended the festival on Saturday.

“I joined the Kent County Arts Council as an interested person just with the art that was here [in Chestertown]. There’s almost like a magnet, just so much art,” Dr. Rapelyea said.

This magnet of the arts started a collaboration between Dr. Rapelyea and Director Emeritus of the Kent Cultural Alliance, formerly known as the Kent County Arts Council, Leslie Raimond whose mission is to serve “the residents of Kent County supporting and creating inclusive artistic and cultural experiences designed to connect communities through shared conversations,” according to their website.

At its start, the festival was a way to raise money for a museum.

“What better way to have a music festival raise the money for the museum?’” Dr. Rapelyea said.

From this idea, the Chestertown Jazz Festival was born and has been running for 27 years now.

Director of American Studies and Ernest A. Howard Professor of English and American Studies at Washington College Dr. Richard De Prospo also attended the festival this year.

“We come every year. I mean, it’s a matter of supporting the community and supporting the sponsors,” Dr. De Prospo said.

In addition, Dr. De Prospo cited a WC connection for his attendance at the festival. Sean Rapelyea ’08, son of Dr. Rapelyea, was a student of Dr. De Prospo.

“It’s a delightful event, I mean, basically you can come for very little money, do what would cost three times as much in Washington or Baltimore,” Dr. De Prospo said. “These are really good bands.”

The Garfield Center for the Arts was the managing organization for the Jazz Festival, and their Theatre Manager Nic Carter was one of many staff members working at the festival.

“I think that jazz is one of America’s greatest contributions to music, and we here in Chestertown believe that celebrating the arts is a very important thing and celebrating America’s art form is just as important as all of them,” Carter said.

Photo Caption: The Jazz Festival is an annual celebration of music, culture, and community near the Chester River.

Photo by Delaney Runge

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