Friday, January 16, 2015

A Newport state of mind

Jon Batiste
Here it is mid-January, and they've already got us thinking about - and planning for - this summer’s Newport Jazz Festival. The 2015 edition will run July 31-August 2 at Fort Adams State Park on picturesque Newport Harbor and the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport Casino. The latter site was the festival’s original home in 1954. Now it hosts the fancier Friday night concert.

The Newport Casino event was the festival’s traditional Friday night opener, until last year when producer George Wein added the third day at Fort Adams to showcase more talent at the festival’s 60th anniversary celebration.

Some thoughts on 2015's diverse programming:
  • The New Orleans-Newport connection remains strong.  There will be four bands led by New Orleans musicians at this year’s edition. This year’s contingent: pianist Jon Batiste & Stay Human, drummer Herlin Riley’s quintet, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and Dr. John & the Night Trippers. The good doctor had to postpone his musical gris gris visit last year due to a bout with the flu.
  • Batiste and trumpeter Chris Botti will be featured Friday night at the Casino, a concert that is considered a must for Newport’s “scenemakers.”
  • One-third of the bands booked this year are making their Newport debuts, though some of those leaders have appeared at Newport in the past as sidemen in other groups. They include bluesman Lucky Peterson, saxophonist Matana Roberts, Jose James, trumpeter Tom Harrell’s longstanding quintet, saxophonist Scott Robinson’s Doctette, and the band Kneebody. Trumpeter-singer Bria Skonberg performed last year with Vince Giordano’s trad band The Nighthawks. This year, she’s back leading her own quintet.
  • The performer age span is quite amazing. It ranges from 88-year-old alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson (leading his quartet on Sunday) to 11-year-old Indonesian piano prodigy Joey Alexander (on Saturday).
  • Acts I’m most keen to hear: guitarist Pat Martino’s organ trio, Matana Roberts’ band Coin Coin, Mayfield's New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, singer Cassandra Wilson’s new Billie Holiday tribute, Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side of Horace Silver project, bassist Christian McBride's trio, and Harrell’s always-excellent band and music.
  • Another not to miss: a Sunday piano duet set by two Newport regulars: Michel Camilo and Hiromi Uehara. Each brings new meaning to the word “intense.” Together they should really be something.
No matter your specific jazz taste, there is lots to savor. Tickets are now on sale. More details at

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