Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Random thoughts on Newport’s return to the festival scene

Last weekend’s Newport Jazz Festival, after a one-year absence due to the COVID-19 shutdowns, was mighty welcome for music fans and performers alike.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
The July 30-August 1 event at Fort Adams State Park overlooking Newport Harbor for many musicians was either the first or first significant performance opportunity since we began emerging from the long pandemic winter.

“It’s been an interesting year-and-a-half to two years. The ability to play for you is such a pleasure,” trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah told the crowd before his Saturday set on the main stage.

Kamasi Washington
The music was strong every day, with a wider range of styles than jazz purists are used to – particularly on Friday’s program. R&B, hip-hop and atmospheric rock were on the bill. The crowd was extremely diverse in terms of ages and musical interests. As music evolves, jazz has a much bigger influence umbrella where bebop shares the stage with so much more. 
Terri Lyne Carrington

Highlights, for this listener, were Sunday’s Vibes Summit, with Sasha Berliner, Joel Ross and Warren Wolf backed by the Emmet Cohen trio; and sets by saxophonists Kenny Garrett, Charles Lloyd, Chris Potter and Kamasi Washington, The Jazz Gallery All-Stars, and the Kenny Barron-Dave Holland-Johnathan Blake trio. 

A Christian McBride Situation, blending jazz with funk and two turntable artists (DJ Logic and Jahi Sundance), offered some interesting reinventions of jazz classics on Friday, including Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" and Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood" and "It Don't Mean a Thing (if it Ain't Got That Swing)."

Everyone took the festival’s pandemic precautions in stride with little or no complaint.

This year’s festival was limited to two stages rather than the usual four, in recent years. There were 30 bands (10 per day) rather than the usual 50.

Attendance was capped at 6,000 per day – or 60 percent of capacity. Nobody got inside the gate without proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test within 48 hours. Masks were encouraged in close quarters or high-traffic areas, and were mandated in the photo pits.

Andra Day

The close ties between Newport and New Orleans continue to thrive through their respective jazz festivals. Several Crescent City musicians are on the bill at every Newport Jazz Festival. This year’s contingent included Scott, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, drummer Joe Dyson, bassist-saxophonist Morgan Guerin, and singer Ledisi, who performed an R&B-powered tribute to Nina Simone.

Festival founder George Wein, now 95, didn’t make the trip from his home in New York City because of age and travel considerations. While it pained him to miss the festival, he did keep tabs on what was happening. He even introduced good friend Mavis Staples’ Saturday afternoon set via telephone hookup. He was on the phone again to thank the crowd before singer Andra Day’s closing set wrapped up this 2021 edition.

This was my 40th consecutive Newport Jazz Festival, starting in 1981 when Wein brought the event back to Newport after a 10-year absence. Here's a 'ink to my report and images for Offbeat.

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