Newport 2009: One for the Ages
George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival 55
International Tennis Hall of Fame and Fort Adams State Park
Newport, Rhode Island
August 7-9, 2009
"We have three stages now, and I wish we could have more to give all these young musicians a chance to be heard," Newport jazz festival founder (and savior for 2009) George Wein told thousands of listeners at the August 7-9 gala, re-dubbed George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Fest 55."
, Jane Monheit, rapper Mos Def, Hiromi, Miguel Zenon, Brian Blade, Joshua Redman, Claudia Acuna and James Carter. All are 40 or under, which qualifies them as mere kids to this 70-year-old reviewer.
And indeed there was plenty of youthful talent at this most venerable of jazz fests, including luminaries like Esperanza Spalding
, 83, Dave Brubeck, 88, and Tony Bennett, 83along with the supporting ensemble of each.
But when it came to booking talent for prime time on the big stage for the finale on Sunday, the nod went to a trio of octogenariansRoy Haynes
Neither Brubeck nor Bennett played or sang anything new, but who really cared? The audience roared at "Take Five" and "I Left My Heart...," and dozens of other well-done chestnuts.
Brubeck was in particularly fine form. He opened with an Ellington medley, full of his trademark stutter-step chords and between-the-beat accents, building the tension so integral to all good jazz. He teased the crowd, playing Harold Arlen's "Stormy Weather" as clouds threatened to burst over historic Fort Adams State Park and the yacht-filled Narragansett Bay. But the rain never came, and the pianist took a stroll on Jimmy McHughes' "Sunny Side of the Street."
Alto player Bobby Militello switched to flute on Brubeck's ethereal "Elegy," and injected some of the pianist's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" into "Take Five," a double rhythmic adventure.
Rock-steady backing from Michael Moore on bass and drummer Randy Jones allowed Brubeck to meander at will piano without ever losing his way.
Festival-closer Bennett brought Brubeck back to sit in on keys as they revisited Arlen's "That Old Black Magic," a duet they last played together at JFK's White House in 1962.
Bennett clearly relishes his continued reign as surviving king of the Great American Songbook, raising his arms like a prizefighter after conquering a high-note climax, grinning ear to ear, sometimes doing a Gene Kelly impersonation as his rather sedate quartet took a turn in the spotlight. His voice remains a wonder of the world.
I missed most of the Roy Haynes Fountain of Youth set as checking out Steve Bernstein's Millennium Territorial Orchestra on a side stage proved captivating. The nine-piece band employs a violinist and guitarist, both equipped with wah-wah pedals, and the leader plays a slide trumpet at times. The repertoire ranges from 1920s jazz to pop to Sun Ra-like chaos to country (guitarist Matt Munisteri sings in a laid-back way echoing Willie Nelson). The mix is rearranged for maximum novelty, and joy. Case in point: One number began with a free jazz free-for-all, then morphed into "Le Marseilleise," then into a super-swinging Beatles hit, "All You Need Is Love."
Bernstein conducts with show-biz flair, summoning imaginative, often zany, solos from all hands, and coaching the crowd, shushing us when a tune seems to be ending, only to calm down for a violin solo.
The MTO is based in New York. Alas, no upcoming dates are listed on Bernstein's Web site. No doubt many in attendance would love to hear this band again.
's Indo-Pak Coalition created jazz out of Indian-based melodies, including a hypnotic Ravi Shankar ballad. Dan Weiss's hammering and tapping on finely tuned and re-tuned tablas was music to both ear and eye.
Earlier on the same day, altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa
The end of Joe Lovano's UsFive set was a show-stopper, with the robust saxophonist wailing the blues on two sopranos simultaneously while two drummers pounded away behind him. Lovano later joined Dominican piano great Michel Camilo for a rousing "Night in Tunisia."
Saturday's lineup proved less compelling, making it easier to roam from stage to stage in quest of music that would encourage a listener to plant him or herself in one place. Fortunately, there were sufficient highlights to capture everyone's attention at some point:
Pianist Cedar Walton
Jane Monheit's honeyed voice on a bevy of standards, notably "Waters of March" and "Rainbow Connection."
Claudia Acuna singing an old Brazilian bolero that later became Americanized as "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes." Branford Marsalis soloed on soprano, one of many occasions he played with his own quartet, or as a guest with musicians recorded on his Marsalis Music label.
Christian McBride's booming bass notes and George Colligan's impressive piano accompaniment on a McBride trio set.
The North Carolina Central University big band (and small groups) had a blast playing with Marsalis and his pianist, Joey Calderazzoboth on the NCCU faculty.
The festival opener Friday night (August 7) at the 19th-century International Tennis Hall of Fame, with Chaka Khan subbing for an ailing Etta James, plus the Swing Era-leaning Howard Alden-Anat Cohen quintet.
Khan has a surprisingly good feel for jazz and an ear for good tunes, but her frequent forays into her upper register were like fingernails on a blackboard, all shrill, no thrill.
Alden, Cohen and Co. sounded just fine, swinging effortlessly on a dozen familiar tunes, including clarinetist Cohen's salute to Benny Goodman on his centennial, playing Eubie Blake's "Memories of You."
Impresario Wein sat in on "All of Me" and took his first of many bows over the weekend for having rescued the festival after the company he sold it to two years ago ran into financial problems. CareFusion, a California health care company, is joining Wein as lead sponsor of a number of festivals, including next June's two-week celebration in New York.