Highlights from the 2002 JVC Newport Jazz Festival
It was a perfect night in the land of perfect people. And right out of the overture-less gates, Tony Bennet swung for the far fences of Newport’s famed grass courts with a spare and open "WatchWhat Happens." Though the mix was a bit dampened on the sides, a scatty "The Best is Yet to Come" was as prescient as ever (especially as Tony had an entire second set scheduled the next day). After tipping his hat to new piano man Lee Musiker with "I Love a Piano," Bennett got back into the swing with "All of Me," featuing the colorful pluckings of Grey Sergent. Picking up the pace with a Clayton Cameron-ized "I Got Rhythm," Bennett brought things down again with a provocative tribute to 9/11 (and Judy Garland) by way of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." An equally timely and encouragingly up-tempo "Who Cares" featured the warm and snappy bass work of Paul Langosch. And though Barbara’s "People" was a bit of a strain (and when are they not?), Charlie Chaplin’s "Smile" brought a touch of melancholy optimism to the set. Johnny Mercer’s "I Wanna Be Around" acted as a tribute to Bennett’s endurance and longevity, but despite his 50-plus years of performance, it still took the audience until the chorus to pick up on his theme song, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Hit after git. Favorite after favorite, climaxing with Cameron’s astounding skinwork on Duke Ellington’s "It Don’t Mean A Thing" made this set another overwhelming crowd pleaser. And though it was almost identical to other performances, when it’s Tony Bennett at the mike, what’s wrong with that?
Balling the Jack Fort Adams State Park August 10, 2002
From the Factory to the Fort, this collection of Village vanguards brought a needed kick to the lazy hazy first day of Newport Jazz 2002. Combining melodiously mixed cacophonies with familiar phrases, BTJ touched ona wide varietyof Jazz textures in a relatively few numberof numbers. While Leadbelly’s "Dick’s Holler: crawled out of the muddy waters into a mini Calloway swing, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring’s cartoonish composition "Betaville" led playfully into a more regimented Ellington fugue. With the help of the Klezmatic duo of trumpeter Frank London and sax man Matt Darriau, BTJ was able to bring their underground music into the light and shine with the best of the legendary festival.
Isaac Hayes Fort Adams State Park August 11, 2002
Backed by a seven keyboards, a five-string bass, three back up singers, two drummers and two guitarists, the African Prince known to millions as "Chef" ruled over the stage from the moment he strode uponit. Piling on the Stax right away with a deeply grooved version of "Don’t Let Go," the gentle giant and his large band mellowed into a silky island trip through "Don’t You Ever Take Your Love Away." "WalkOn" was anover-baritoned tear-jerker with an out of place percussion battle and screechy vocal supports. Fortunately, afdter losing the audience with the extended instrumental "Ellie’s Love Theme," Hayes got things cooking again with a punchy "Do Your Thing." Taking a long, soulful trip to "Phoenix" (most of which was introductory sermon and commentary), Hayes suddenly found himself facing the end of his set. Who does a manlike Isaac Hayes call to get him out of a set in style? You damn right! With the first scratches of that famous intro, "Shaft’ set the crowd into a flashback frenzy which stayed up until Hayes had finally given his band a second to rest and take some well-deserved bows.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe Fort Adams State Park August 11, 2002
Led into the urban jungle rhythms by a high and tight bass line, Karl Denson bounced into the beat with a handful of African percussion pieces before taking up his mighty sax to let loose with the fiery blasts that foretold the coming of "Elephants." None to proud for a muscular tambourine solo, Denson also flexed his formidable flute skills and led the band with energetic vocals that turned ubilant jams to more radio-friendly songs, such as the squeaky new number "Satisfied." Hammond swirls and crisp percussion made melodic beds for Denson to slide into with his hot, buttered so- (wait- that would come later). A dedication to Femi Kuti mixed Mother Africa with Papa’s brand new bag. Unfortunately, in his urge to groove, Denson occassionally fell away from the mike, losing his brassy punch amidst a flurry of notes.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band Fort Adams State Park August 11, 2002