At the historic Merion Inn in Cape May, Bob Myers and his wife were settling in for an evening of jazz, a mainstay on Tuesday nights.

Locals, the Myerses have been coming to the inn for decades - "since two years before dirt," Bob says - long after the summer visitors take their beach chairs and go home, and well before they arrive for the next season.

Barry Miles, a jazz pianist who worked as Roberta Flack's musical director for 15 years, is on the grand piano; Andy Lalasis is on bass; and Bob Shomo on drums.

"It's absolutely unpredictable and beautiful," Myers, 72, an architect, said after the trio capped its first set one evening last month.

In Cape May, the shoulder season swings.

The Merion Inn may become one of the newest venues for the Exit Zero Jazz Festival, celebrating its fifth anniversary this fall. (Cape May is the last exit - Mile Marker 0 - on the Garden State Parkway.)

Main concert venues include the Congress Hall hotel, the 750-seat Convention Hall overlooking the ocean, and the local high school, with capacity for 1,200.

Jazz great Wynton Marsalis will headline the three-day event, Nov. 11 to 13, for the second consecutive year. Exit Zero also holds a jazz festival in the spring, bringing about 8,000 enthusiasts to this picturesque seaside town annually.

"It's really become both an economic and cultural cornerstone of the shoulder seasons," said Michael Kline, 56, festival producer.

The shoulder seasons - or second seasons, as some like to call them - are becoming more popular as the beach towns offer special events, Cape May County tourism experts said.

"The September and October weather is probably the best at the Jersey Shore. The locals know," said Tracey DuFault, executive director of the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce. "It's like our secret, and it seems to be getting out a little bit, to be honest with you."

In Wildwood, a fall motorcycle rally will draw 100,000, she said. Also on tap are a firefighters' convention, a country music festival, a classic car show, and an Italian festival.

A little farther south, Cape May is one of the best places in the world for fall bird watching. As cold air and wind push birds south from Canada and toward the coast, Cape May is the first point they pass through, said David La Puma, director of the Cape May Bird Observatory.

According to Diane Wieland, director of tourism for Cape May County, bird-watching pumps a whopping $639 million into the economy, including lodging, restaurants, transportation, and retail. That's 11 percent of the county's tourism revenue, she said.

An annual double shot of jazz helps the bottom line, too.

Cape May has had a jazz festival for more than 20 years. Kline's Exit Zero replaced the previous festival when it closed. His first festival was held in 2012, 10 days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the shoreline. Attendance flopped.

But the festival rebounded in subsequent years as Kline enlisted an all-star cast, including Indonesian jazz pianist Joey Alexander, a child prodigy who released his first album last year at age 11.

Exit Zero's lineup includes traditional jazz musicians, but also bands with funky mixes, such as the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

"They're almost a cross between a traditional jazz band and a punk band," Kline said.

Cecile McLorin Salvant, who won a 2016 Grammy for best jazz vocal album; the Philadelphia Funk Authority; and an all-female band from Cuba are among other performers scheduled to take the stage.

Pat Martino, a South Philadelphia native and prominent jazz guitarist, will play, and a documentary will be shown featuring Martino's recovery after an aneurysm forced him to learn how to play guitar all over again.

"The jazz festival is one of the best things to happen to the shoulder season in Cape May for a long, long time," said John Cooke, former president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May.

Alexander, he noted, had appeared on 60 Minutes before coming to Cape May's festival for the second time.

"From 60 Minutes to the Cape May stage, that's something that Cape May doesn't get," he said.

Prices range from $20 at the door to $185 for a VIP package with admission to all events. A $45 "hops pass" gets a patron into the clubs featuring jazz as well as a tour of Cape May Brewing, which has declared its King Porter Stomp Ale the official festival beer, Kline said.

A native of Reading, Kline got to know jazz when his family traveled to Cape May for summer vacations, and his father played jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis' "Sun Goddess" on the way home Sundays. After graduating from Albright College with an English degree in 1983, Kline spent nine years in Cape May before heading to New Orleans, where he worked for a nonprofit radio station and got involved with that city's jazz festival. For more than 10 years, he hosted a morning jazz show.

He also became an agent for jazz acts and attended just about every major jazz festival in the world.

"Gets in your soul," he said.

Kline always mused what he would do if he had his own festival.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, and with water rising to the second step of his front porch, he and his young son returned to Cape May.

When the previous Cape May jazz festival ended in 2011, he jumped at the chance to start a new one. The first year he got Lewis to headline.

Lately, he's been encouraging the Merion Inn to join. The inn may open in the afternoon for a special event, said Vicki Watson, the owner.

"I think it would be nice to offer a nice piano as a listening venue," she said.

She and her late partner, George Mesterhazy, a Grammy-nominated jazz musician who was the pianist for the late Shirley Horn in her later years, began holding regular jazz performances in 1993. Watson also credited her partners, Philadelphia-area couple Victor Keen and Jeanne Ruddy, with helping to keep the jazz going.

On jazz night, musicians set up near the bar. When they begin, conversations are reduced to a whisper - an unwritten rule a little more honored in the offseason, when only local loyalists like the Myers are there. (The Merion switches jazz to Thursdays in the offseason.)

"You never know who is going to come here," Myers said, recalling how the young Alexander awed the audience when he stopped in to play during the jazz festival, his head barely visible above the piano.

At the bar on a recent Tuesday, swaying her head to the music, was Vickie Tryon, another local and longtime regular.

"They're like family," she said of the trio.

Tryon, 61, a custom tailor, said she is an ardent supporter of the arts.

"I feel like it's a responsibility," she said, "and it's an enjoyable one."

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