Thursday, August 10, 2017

Newport Jazz Festival looks to its future

There was a palpable shift in the musical air at this year's Newport Jazz Festival, the first year in which the new artistic director, Christian McBride, put his stamp on the event. 
Christian McBride, George Wein

Founding producer George Wein, 91, still heads the Newport Festival Foundation that runs the jazz and folk festivals in Newport. But the musical choices mostly were McBride's, and that lineup delivered the largest weekend attendance the festival has seen in quite a few years.

Combined attendance was 25,500 for the three afternoons at Fort Adams State Park and a sold-out opening night concert at historic Newport Casino on Friday, August 4. Saturday's attendance at Fort Adams was 9,600, just 500 tickets shy of a sellout for the day.

Maceo Parker

The biggest crowd draws were Maceo Parker and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones on Friday, the collective Snarky Puppy on Saturday, and Sunday's main stage closing act, The Roots, the hip-hop and rap-laced backing band on NBC's Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.  

Benny Golson
McBride drew mightily on his native Philadelphia's music scene for the 2017 festival, blending adventourous, talented players from the jazz tradition and beyond. The grand old man of this year's performers, Benny Golson, 88, is a Philly native. 

Other talents from the City of Brotherly Love included McBride's own powerful big band, B-3 organ player Joey DeFrancesco, pianist Orrin Evans, and drummer Questlove. The Roots drummer also teamed with McBride and pianist Uri Caine  for a Quad Stage combination they called "Philadelphia Experiment" with DJ Logic as a special guest.

Introducing DeFrancesco's set that closed out the Quad Stage on Friday, McBride said "This feels like a Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts reunion." (DeFrancesco, Questlove (Amair Khalib Thompson) and The Roots' rapper Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) were classmates of McBride.

Favorite weekend acts for these eyes and ears:
  • Benny Golson's quartet with pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Buster WiIlliams and drummer Carl Allen.
  • The modern bop collective One For All, now in its 20th year of performances. The band includes tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Jim Rotondi (who flew in for Austria for the gig), trombonist Steve Davis, pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth.
    Spalding and Carrington
  • Terri Lyne Carrington and Esparanza Spalding's poignant "Flying Toward the Sound" celebration of late band mate Geri Allen, who died from cancer in June. Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer and Christian Sands shared the piano duties.
  • On the main stage, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene's quartet on Friday, the Christian McBride Big Band, with special guests Warren Wolf (vibes) and Sean Jones (trumpet) on Saturday, and Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra on Sunday.
  • Joey DeFrancesco's quartet, The People.
  • The Danilo Perez-led Jazz 100 project, which honored the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Mongo Santamaria and Ella Fitzgerald on the centennial of their births in 1917.
  • Trumpeter Dominick Farinacci's octet featuring vibraphonist Christian Tamburr, and drummer Antonio Sanchez & Migration.
  • The supergroup Hudson, with drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier, pianist John Medeski and guitarist John Scofield, whose powerful set blended jam band-style originals and jazz covers of classic rock tunes.

Trombone Shorty
Newport for many years has solidified its link to the birthplace of jazz. New Orleans musicians were a solid presence again this year, with clarinetist Evan Christopher, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, pianist David Torkanowsky and saxophonist Branford Marsalis’s quartet.

At the start of his Friday afternoon set on the Quad Stage at Fort Adams State Park, Christopher told the crowd his band, Clarinet Road, “is not even about the clarinet anymore. It’s about presenting the great music of New Orleans, which turns 300 next year.”

Trombone Shorty, who plays trombone, trumpet and sings, headlined Friday’s opening night concert at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport Casino, the charming original home of the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954.

The Newport Jazz Festival's presenting sponsor is Natixis Global Asset Management.

Here is a link to my photo coverage for JazzTimes.  

Here is a link to images for Offbeat.

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