Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Newport Jazz Festival @ 60: lots of rain, great musical moments, loyal fans [updated]

The Newport Jazz Festival, grandaddy of outdoor music festivals all over the world, marked its 60th anniversary over the weekend in grand, loving and soggy fashion. 

The August 1-3 event was quite the extravaganza, keeping we writers and photographers racing from stage to stage to stage in pursuit of its strong lineups and great music. There were top-flight bands no matter your style preference, and none disappointed.
I'll post updates with links to photo galleries as they are published. Eighteen of those photos are now posted with Bill Beuttler's review at Jazztimes.com. New Orleans-based Offbeat has also published a photo series. I will supplement those offerings with another Postcards from Newport blog bonus over the next week or so.

Less-hardy would have considered Saturday a washout, with heavy rain blasting down on Fort Adams State Park for most of the day. Eight-thousand people bought tickets for the day and 6,000 of them showed up. The festival site was a sea of ponchos and umbrellas. 

The first Newport Jazz Festival in July 1954 had a day of rain at the event's initial home, Newport Casino, and photographs of folks sitting with umbrellas listening to jazz were transmitted around the world and added to the event's mystique. As producer George Wein said 60 years ago: "We're not going to let a little rain stop us." Nor did it stop things in 2014.

Most notable:
Lee Konitz

  • Friday evening's traditional festival event at Newport Casino was the strongest since Wein returned to the International Tennis Hall of Fame home in the 1980s. It featured singer Dee Dee Bridgewater's tribute to Billie Holiday and a superbly programmed set by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
  • Riveting matinee performances at Fort Adams by singers Cecile McLorin Salvant and Gregory Porter.
  • Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon's Identities Big Band, the SFJazz Collective, the hard-bop superband The Cookers, a collaboration by saxophonist David Sanborn and B-3 master Joey DeFrancesco, the Newport Now 60 band, Wein's own Newport All-Stars, and closing main stage sets by Jon Batiste & Stay Human on Friday, Trombone Shorty on Saturday and singer Bobby McFerrin's SpiritYouAll project on Sunday.
  • Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, last man standing from 1954's performance schedule (in a performance with pianist Lennie Tristano), was back with his own trio and special guest Grace Kelly, a young alto player making a big name for herself in recent years.

Only disappointment: Dr. John & The Nite Trippers cancelled due to illness. Three of the other main stage bands took up the slack by adding 15 minutes to their sets. It was a wonderful solution.

Everywhere George Wein, now 88, traveled throughout the festival grounds on his golf cart, "The Wein Machine," total strangers were stopping him to thank him for starting the Newport jazz tradition, and finding ways to keep it going. 

Bravo indeed.

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