The Chestertown Jazz Festival, organized by local radiologist Dr. Mel Rapelyea will return in September for its 25th Anniversary.

Jazz doesn’t get any better than the groove Christian McBride’s New Jawn delivers, and fresh from winning his 7th Grammy, McBride has accepted Dr. Mel Rapelyea’s invitation to headline the 25th Anniversary Chestertown Jazz Festival in September. In a word, “Wow!”

When Christian McBride’s New Jawn takes the stage under the bigger-than-ever Festival tent in Wilmer Park, on the banks of the Chester River, McBride’s premier musicians will continue the Chestertown Jazz Festival tradition of bringing astonishingly important jazz artists to town.

In 1996, Rapelyea topped off his first Festival by wooing the Count Basie Orchestra’s Frank Foster to Chestertown, and Foster didn’t disappoint. He thrilled the first-Festival audience with his quartet of Basie veterans, and this year’s headliner is proof that “Doctor Mel” can still shag big stars.

“Oh my goodness!” laughed Rapelyea. “I am thrilled that Christian McBride’s New Jawn is our headliner-this is going to be quite a celebration. We’ll have new young talent that people will love, great local and Mid-Atlantic artists excited to be back to play the Festival again, and lots more. The 25th anniversary Festival is going to have it all.”

Tap “Christian McBride’s New Jawn” into YouTube and you’ll get a whiff of the level of musicianship that will bring jazz lovers from Philly, DC, Baltimore and South Jersey to the three-day Festival, from Thursday to Saturday, September 9 to 11.

Chuck Redd on vibraphone and drums will amaze, as always, when he kicks off the festival with his combo in Rock Hall on Thursday, in The Mainstay’s new outdoor venue. Talk about legends! Redd was 21 when he joined the Charlie Byrd Trio and took off on a career that included 25 European tours and six tours in Japan with Barney Kessel. In recent years, Redd has played countless packed-house gigs at the Mainstay as well as the 2016 Jazz Festival. Rapelyea says Redd is dedicating his 2021 Festival concert to the memory of Charlie Byrd.

Doctor Mel is delighted with the music he and Sue Matthews have lined up for Friday night’s “Cocktails and Jazz” show in the Festival’s biggest-ever tent in Wilmer Park, where the pandemic-era audience will be able to spread out while they enjoy heavy hors d’oeuvres and drink in the sound of Festival favorites. Millington’s Vaughn Bratcher Project will welcome the audience with smooth modern jazz spiced with a bit of R&B before they hand over the stage to The Sholbertshire Swingtet.

The four Sholbertshires are pros who’ve travelled the world and performed with the best of the best: Amy Shook on acoustic bass (she played at the White House twice!); Joe Holt at the piano (he’s on more than 30 album recordings and has been hosting “Mainstay Mondays” with local talent since 2016); Scott Silbert on tenor sax (he’s the U.S. Navy Band’s chief arranger and plays with the Smithsonian’s Jazz Masterworks Orchestra); and Steve Abshire on guitar (he appeared twice with the “Great Guitars,” once with Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd when he filled in for Barney Kessel).

“The Sholbertshires are four of the mid-Atlantic’s favorite voices in jazz,” Rapelyea said. “They’ve joined forces to celebrate the music of the Great American Songbook, and their unique and joyous way pays tribute to the swingin’ ensemble sound of the Oscar Peterson Trio featuring Stan Getz. I guarantee they’ll swing you into great health!”

On Saturday, the Chestertown Jazz Festival tent will be filled with music all afternoon and into the evening. “We’ll open with gospel music as always,” Doctor Mel said. The Burke family will grace our opening, “and our emcee on Saturday will be the wonderful and beautiful Miyuki Williams from WPFW jazz radio in Washington, D.C. She has emceed the Festival many times and everyone who knows jazz knows her. She hosts a Sunday jazz show on WPFC called Sunday Kind of Love.”

Rapelyea says he is delighted that the second group on stage Saturday, the Ephraim and Ebben Dorsey Quintet, is a tribute to youth in jazz. At 17 and 16, the brother and sister alto saxophonists claim top-billing in their Baltimore combo. According to Doctor Mel, the teens have been playing professionally with veteran musicians locally and across the country since they were about ten years old.

Next up? A “Chestertown Jazz Revue” choreographed by vocalist Sue Matthews that will be jam-packed with local celebrities and home-grown super-stars: Dick Durham, Stef Scaggiari, Sherry Winston, Giacomo Gates, The Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet, Lena Seikaly, Sue Matthews and Marlon Saunders! For anyone who’s been tuned in to the local music scene for a decade or two or three, the Jazz Revue will be a gift basket overflowing with sounds people love about Chestertown.

And then, with everyone already on their feet, calling for more, Doctor Mel says Miyuki Williams will introduce Christian McBride’s New Jawn.

“Oh, my goodness,” Rapelyea said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”He is so grateful for his knowledgeable and hardworking committee for so many years. He inaugurated festival 1 in 1996 with the complete backing of Leslie Raimond who headed The Kent County Arts Council. She’s been helping him ever since. Other current members include the master of recycling and the organizer and leader of the ‘Ukulele group’, Ford Shuman. He is the consummate ‘Stage Manager.’ Hard workers also include Mary Simmons, Andy Goddard, Nic Carter and the newest Steve Arnold. Steve is the new Executive Director of the Garfield Center for the Performing Arts. He joins the committee with zeal and excitement for this 25th anniversary event.

For ticket information, go to The Chestertown Jazz Festival’s Facebook page. Dr. Mel Rapelyea and his committee are ‘Well Healthy Aware’ and are prepared to follow any future regulations related to the COVID pandemic. As of the latest CDC ruling the event has received their blessing to move forward safely with no significant restrictions.

For information and advance ticket sales go to or call 410-810-2060.