Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Newport is beckoning again....

While it is eight weeks away, the 2019 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival feels like it is right around the corner. Time flies, no matter which time signature you're using.

This August will bring my 39th annual trip to Newport, attending all but one of the Jazz Festivals since George Wein brought the storied event back to Newport in 1981, as well as many of its companion Newport Folk Festivals.

Three afternoons and one evening of music by more than 50 bands from August 2-4, cover mainstream, Latin, modern jazz and the avant garde. Only fans of Dixieland and other early jazz styles have nothing to sate their classic jazz appetites on this year's announced program. How times have changed since the very first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 when Eddie Condon's Dixieland band kicked off the event with "Muskrat Ramble."
Herbie Hancock

This year's headliners include Herbie Hancock, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, the Bad Plus, Common, and singers Dianne Reeves and Cecile McLorin Salvant.

With so much to choose from on four stages, here's what I most look forward to hearing:
  • Hancock, who as Artist-in-Residence will be featured in different contexts throughout the weekend. On Saturday, for example, he performs in a trio with bassist/festival artistic director Christian McBride and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta.
  • British singer Corinne Bailey Rae, who will perform Friday afternoon at Fort Adams State Park and also be part of Jon Batiste's Friday night concert at historic Newport Casino, the original Newport Jazz Festival setting and longtime home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
    Ravi Coltrane
  • Alto saxophonist Gary Bartz's band with tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and trumpeter Charles Tolliver.
  • Singer-pianist Kandace Springs
  • The afternoon will also feature a wide range of big bands: The Sun Ra Arkestra, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society

  • Bassist Ron Carter's trio with guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Donald Vega.
    Dee Dee Bridgewater
  • Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Memphis Soulphony.
  • New York's Royal Bopsters vocal group featuring special guest Sheila Jordan.
  • Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and pianist David Virelles.
  • Drummer Ralph Peterson's Messenger Legacy band, carrying on the great sound of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
  • Pianist Brandon Goldberg's trio.
Helen Sung
  • Christian Sands' three-piano tribute to Erroll Garner featuring fellow pianists Helen Sung and Tarataka Unno.
  • Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto's Big Band.
  • Pianists Aaron Diehl, Eric Lewis (ELEW) and PJ Morton.
  • A duo performance by pianist Helen Sung and baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian. 
Jon Batiste
Ron Carter
There always will be pleasant surprises: great talents, emerging or otherwise, with whom I haven't crossed paths before. 

That's one of the joys of Newport. The other joy: there is always something for everyone, whether you sample tidbits at each stage - or camp in one spot for an artist you dig a lot.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Jumping aboard the hard-bop express

Drummer Paul Gavin digs hard bop, a hard-driving jazz subgenre that embraced strong elements of funk, soul and the blues when it emerged in the 1950s. And he plays it with great joy and enthusiasm.
Paul Gavin

Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers band was one of hard bop's primary incubators. His unit also played a peerless role in developing scores and scores of fine bandleaders over the years. (You can find more detail on that legacy in this earlier posting.)

Gavin's newest band project, Mosaic, made its debut performance on Saturday, May 18, at the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin. The band is named after one of Blakey's finest albums, a 1961 Blue Note project for which pianist Cedar Walton composed the title track.

This night's music was drawn entirely from the Jazz Messengers repertoire, which made sense for two reasons - Blakey's influence on jazz, and the fact that this is the centennial of his birth year. The Pittsburgh native was born on October 11, 1919. He died in 1990.
Bruce, Suggs, Gillespie

Tampa-based Gavin's sextet included pianist John O'Leary III, bassist Michael Ross, trumpeter James Suggs, tenor saxophonist Valerie Gillespie and trombonist Herb Bruce. They locked into the hard-bop groove and celebrated its vibrant legacy all night long in both ensemble sections and soloing.
Gavin, O'Leary

The repertoire was varied, drawing mostly from Jazz Messenger members Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Benny Golson, as well as Curtis Fuller, Bobby Timmons and Blakey himself.

Mosaic performed Morgan's "Calling Miss Khadija" and "Kozo's Waltz," Hubbard's "Crisis" and "Down Under," Golson's "Along Came Betty," Fuller's exotic-tinged "Arabia," and Walton's "Mosaic" and "Ugetsu."

There were two other fine spotlight moments:
Gavin, Ross
  • Mosaic's opening set concluded with Gavin's arrangement of Timmons' composition "Moanin'," which became the Jazz Messengers signature tune. After a horn-section intro, it became a very fine showcase for Ross. To Gavin's mind: "the Jazz Messengers never featured the bass player enough."
  • Gavin
  • The leader opened the second set with a stunning solo drum composition, reprising "The Freedom Rider," which Blakey wrote in tribute to the riders who helped end segregation on public buses - and ultimately, all forms of transportation.
The power and majesty of the trumpet was always a key element in the Jazz Messengers (whose horn-playing alumni included Hubbard, Morgan, Donald Byrd, Chuck Mangione, Terence Blanchard and Wynton Marsalis, among others). On this night, Suggs wore the mantle to great effect. His solos were on fire all night long. Gillespie and Bruce also had fine moments. Bruce, who works mostly in the classic jazz, Dixieland and swing genres, took on the hard-bop challenge and stretched his wings. He was showcased on "Along Came Betty."

Gavin, 27, is a 2015 graduate of the University of South Florida's jazz program. He works full-time as a performer and music educator.

Blakey's legacy was the inspiration for this band, but Gavin said he also plans to dig into other aspects of the hard-bop legacy as Mosaic develops. His said its next focus will be on the soulful sound of two Tampa natives who made a huge mark in jazz, brothers Cannonball and Nat Adderley.
Bruce, Suggs, Gillespie, Gavin, Ross, O'Leary