2018 Newport Jazz Festival leaves the rain behind
Newport Jazz Festival 2018 (Friday, August 3, 2018-Sunday, August 5, 2018)
The Newport Jazz Festival is one of the few jazz festivals that has found a way to include performers that can indulge a variety of audiences without sacrificing what it stands for in the process. The performers featured over this past weekend’s annual festival included a mash-up of accomplished veterans and inspired students, big named celebrities and young, up-and-comers, solo performers and large orchestras, strong and spirited women juxtaposed with adventurous and thoughtful men, straight-ahead jazz accented with rock, R & B, and a whole lotta funk performances in-between; whatever it was, the Newport Jazz Festival covered it all as audience members from around the globe converged on Fort Adams State Park grounds to take it all in!
Started by Louis and Elaine Lorillard in partnership with a young club owner out of Boston named George Wein, the Newport Jazz Festival has been a staple part of the Newport community (temporary relocation to New York City aside) since the Festival started in 1954. From the Festival’s early days until 2016, Wein helped the Festival establish itself as the longest running outdoor jazz festival while also establishing himself as an NEA Jazz Master and the ultimate purveyor of jazz. The now 92-year-old Wein stepped aside as artistic director in 2017 to allow multi award winning bassist Christian McBride to fill the roll. In that time, though more popular artists have been included in the Festival’s lineup (hello Living Colour), this past weekend showed that such a transition may have grown its audience but it didn’t alienate its core. Nearly 25,000 festivalgoers attended this year’s 64th annual event and, by all accounts, the expectation is that those numbers will be even higher for next year’s event.
While artists such as the all-female Artemis, rock supergroup Living Colour, funk legend George Clinton with Parliament Funkadelic, Roy Hargrove, Jazzmeia Horn, all-star group Still Dreaming, pianist Jon Batiste, and vocalist Gregory Porter are among some of the memorable performers this writer was able to see during the Festival, here’s a recap of a few performers and performances that were arguably among the best:
R+R= Now (which stands for reflect + respond = now, a title reportedly inspired by a Nina Simone quote about an artist’s responsibility to reflect the times) opened their hour long set on the Fort stage Friday afternoon performing Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” as only a super team could: with well-timed supporting performances offered by Justin Tyson on drums, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synthesizer, and Robert Glasper on keyboard while Terrace Martin and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah took over the lead delivering performances that left the crowd cheering for more. Though Glasper’s no stranger to working in groups that include vocoder (his group the Robert Glasper Experiment features multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin on the “instrument”), Martin’s vocoder on “Butterfly” seemed wildly original and (surprisingly) also a tad daring. aTunde Adjuah’s blistering trumpet punctuated the air around Martin’s vocoder which set off a groove that led “Butterfly” to soar.
R+R = Now is not the only performer at this year’s Festival who was inspired by the late Nina Simone. Pop/R & B vocalist Andra Day (who was scheduled to perform during last year’s Festival but had to cancel at the last minute due to illness) started her performance of Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn” by speaking about notable cases of racial injustice along with countless, senseless, reported murders of African Americans at the hands of police. Rattling off the names and tragedies of one person right after the next, the crowd stood and listened rapt by every word. By the time Day vocalized “Alabama’s got me so upset,” the crowd seemed to allow her the time and space to escape the madness if only through music. The audience’s gift in turn was the warmth of the sun after a full day of storms as Day sang her hit “I Rise Up” directly to the heavens.
Jose James’ performed his celebration of Bill Withers on both Friday night during the International Tennis Hall of Fame concert and again on Saturday to close out the performances on the Quad Stage. Mostly choosing to stay true to Withers’ approach to the music vocally, James did add a few flourishes here and there that propelled his own artistry. One such case was his treatment of the Withers classic “Grandma’s Hands.” At one point in the song, James leaned heavily on bassist Ben Williams and drummer Nate Smith playing with their rhythm and his vocals weaving in hip hop scratches and breaks to accentuate the lyrics.
Charles Lloyd graced the Newport crowd with his presence in three different groups, with a different group performing on each day of the Festival, this writer’s favorite being his Charles Lloyd New Quartet featuring Eric Harland on drums, Jason Moran on piano, and Reuben Rogers on bass. Lloyd, who used the occasion of the Newport Jazz Festival to celebrate his 80th birthday (the saxophonist’s actual birthday is in March), has an energy when he performs that transcends understanding. His music is as appealing to older audiences as it is to the Festival’s young attendees who crowded the Fort stage’s barricade so as not to miss anything and for that Lloyd is deserving of an extensive study.
The 65th annual Newport Jazz Festival will take place August 2-4, 2019.