It's been awhile since I made the short trip up the New England coast from Connecticut to Newport, Rhode Island. I forgot what a beautiful seaside town that is with it's huge mansions, great restaurants and nightlife during the summer.
The weekend of August 10th, I made it to the JVC Newport Jazz Festival for a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon. It all began in 1954 when Jazz Fest' Grandfather George Wein kicked off the first Newport Jazz Festival. I ran into Mr. Wein backstage. He is such a great guy, an understated giant in the world of jazz. Always with a smile and a handshake.
The JVC Newport Jazz Festival takes place at Fort Adams State Park, a huge fort built right on the water. Jazz fans float leisurely in their motorboats, yachts and rubber dingies as the music rolls out over the bay. It's a great place to relax and dig some jazz on the main lawn too.
Saturday's lineup on the mainstage included: singer Oleta Adams and old-time favorites the Preservation Jazz Hall Band. Things really got cookin' when the Dave Holland Quintet hit the stage. The Boston Globe Newport review called these guys 'the best band in jazz today.'
The Dave Holland Quintet includes: Robin Eubanks, Billy Kilson, Steve Nelson and Chris Potter. Simply put, they cook. Chris Potter is one of the hottest sax players on the scene.
Next to take the mainstage was Mr. Huxtable aka Bill Cosby. That's right. Bill Cosby has long been a great supporter of jazz. He led a band of marauding minstrels in a set called 'Cos of Good Music.' Little kids in the audience chimed in 'We love you Mr. Huxtable!'
Cosby's guys included: Don Alias, Dwayne Burno, Ndugu Chancler, Robin Eubanks, Craig Handy, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Carlos Ward and James Williams. With Cosby conducting, the guys ran through about three jam tunes in a set that allowed all the guys a chance to stretch out a little. I thought it was good stuff.
Afterward, Cosby held a press conference for all the jazz journalists on hand. Making his way to a secluded section of Fort Adams next to a brick wall, the gaggle of jazz writers followed Cosby. I kicked off the press conference by asking Mr. Cosby; as a child, what was his first memory of jazz?
'My first memory is a wall...a brick wall. I was about 5-years-old. There was a matinee going on and it was the music, but this brick wall...the pounding...there was a pounding and I could hear it and I was close enough to feel it. My father stopped and we listened for 35 minutes, then he took me home. And that was my first experience.'
Cosby continued, 'The next one, my father and I got into a big argument because he lied to me. He said he was taking me to the movies to see the Lone Ranger. And it wasn't the Lone Ranger, it was some man on the stage with a band. We had front row seats and I kept yelling at him that I didn't want to see this man. But now that I'm 65, I tell my friends how when I was 5-years-old I took my Dad to see Duke Ellington! (smile)'
Quickly, I packed up my recorder and ran back to the mainstage to catch the classic and still on-top of his game, Mr. Tony Bennett. This guy still has the magic touch. Swingin' through some great tunes, including 'I Left My Heart In San Francisco,' Mr. Bennett wowed the crowd. He's got style and grace.
When asked if he ever gets tired of singing 'San Francisco', Mr. Bennett replied 'Do you ever get tired of making love'? A labor of love. But as we made our way back to our seats, running through my head was the singing parrott version of 'San Francisco' as seen on 'The Best of Johnny Carson.' Remember? Now that's funny.
Sunday's lineup included a mixed bag from soulman Isaac Hayes to 'Directions in Music' celebrating the music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. The guys in this band include: Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove. I caught these guys earlier this summer at the Saratoga Springs Jazz Fest. (actually called the Freihofer's Jazz Festival).
Also gracing the Sunday stage: Arturo Sandoval, David S. Ware and the Nicholas Payton Quintet. Lots of energy as came from the secondary stage from folks like Sex Mob, Greg Osby and Jane Burnett.
All in all, Newport is a great place to see jazz. It's George Wein's baby and nobody promotes jazz worldwide better than George Wein. Do yourself a favor and get to Newport next year. We?ll be looking for ya.