Women ruled at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival
In this day and time, where reports about how this nation’s “tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are seemingly being pushed further and further away from America’s promise, any opportunity for people to unite and feel joyful is welcome. Such an opportunity presented itself August 2-4, 2019, during the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival sponsored by Natixis Investment Managers. Audiences and musicians alike bonded during the three-day festival like long lost friends—hurrying from stage to stage, performance to performance, waiting patiently for one act to end while anticipating the start of another.
The line-up of artists who performed during the 65th anniversary of the celebrated, three-day Festival was as diverse as the audience who flocked to Fort Adams State Park to hear them perform. Hip-hop, R&B, Soul, and, of course, jazz music were all represented. The diversity of the audience and the music weren’t the only things worth highlighting. Though this writer missed Friday’s performances, the most awesome characteristic of the Festival was the increased presence of female performers headlining their own sets.
For years, female musicians have combatted exclusion that was both real and perceived. From not earning big band or orchestra roster spots, being shunned from bandstands and jam sessions, and being passed over when male musicians returned from military enlistment during the World Wars, female musicians have largely received the short end of the proverbial stick over the course of music’s history. But the musical climate at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival felt different for women. They were present, they sang, they played instruments, and they were just all-around free to be.
Out of a total sixty performances (not including Friday night’s line-up at the International Tennis Hall of Fame), nearly one-third of them were led or co-led by women. Veteran artists such as NEA Jazz Masters Sheila Jordan, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Dianne Reeves put on stellar performances per usual. Buika ofreció la interpretación vocal commovedora más bella y ponderosa de cualquier cantante, hombre o mujer. As one-third of a three piano tribute, Helen Sung forged a musical synergy on the Fort Stage with fellow pianists Christian Sands and Tadataka Unno adding her technical proficiency, soft touch, respect for the music, and thoughtful approach to the songs of piano legend Erroll Garner. Jenny Scheinman (violin) and Allison Miller (drums) put on a thrilling performance of music from their newest recording titled “Parlour Game.” Cecile McLorin Salvant’s haunting vocal performance left the audience at the Quad Stage completely engrossed and spellbound. Tank and the Bangas; oh, Tank and the Bangas. The feel-good fearlessness that filled the air before Tarriona “Tank” Ball even stepped onstage is the stuff of New Orleans legend. Once she did appear; once she stood squarely in the center of the stage; once she did open her mouth to release the mystically magical Black girl that was gifted to her from the ancestors, a new legend was born.
The gift of the increased presence of women at the Newport Jazz Festival is that there’s nowhere to go but up from here. The 66th Newport Jazz Festival will take place August 7-9, 2020.