Heading up to Newport, Rhode Island this hot August Sunday, the air was so thick you needed a machete to get through it. But then again, life's a jungle. We're used to it.
Arriving at the hallowed grounds of Fort Adams State Park overlooking the breath-taking bay, I'm overwhelmed with a good vibe. I love this place. I love the music. And I love George Wein, the grandfather of all jazz festivals, who started the ball rolling here in Newport in 1954. Today it's officially called the 2005 JVC Jazz Festival-Newport.
Saturday's lineup included: the Jon Faddis Quartet, Carla Bley, Dave Liebman & Joe Lovano, TS Monk, Patricia Barber, McCoy Tyner Trio with Ravi Coltrane & Terrell Stafford, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Brad Mehldau, Wynton Marsalis Quintet, Stanley Clarke and friends, and the Charles Lloyd Quartet, to name a few.
I didn't even make it to the main stage when I arrived Sunday, as I was drawn to the hip sounds coming from a second stage. (There were three stages active simultaneously.) It was the Cannonball Legacy Band
headed up by drummer Louis Hayes and joined by alto saxophonist Vincent Herring and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt. Upon seeing me, Pelt laughs, "Man, you're like Fed Ex, you're everywhere! Seems that I run into Jeremy everywhere. The NYC subway, at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola
and a week or so before on the New Haven Green, where he opened for Vanessa Williams.
These guys were in fine form today. I think all musicians tend to take it up a level when they're at Newport. It's a special, magical place. And while the hazy, hot, humid weather had a threat of rain, the crowd turned out in force nonetheless. The crowd for Saturday was estimated at 7,200 and for Sunday, 6,100.
Suddenly, Ben Johnson, the All About Jazz photographer on-site let me know that Joshua Redman was about the take the main stage by storm. And man, he was hot! Plugged in and stretching the parameters, Joshua blow your horn! Stomping his feet, swingin' n' swayin'-he led his band with fierce conviction. I had seen him earlier in the year at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater with SFJAZZ and they were incredible as well. But it was nice to see him with his own band and unique sound and style.
Backstage, after his performance, I congratulated him as he pulled the plugs on an array of sfx pedals and switches. "Man, sometimes I really miss straight ahead jazz! he laughs as deals with the tangle of wires. Joshua's a gentleman.
Next up, was perhaps the highlight of the festival. Legendary pianist Dave Brubeck and his quartet got ready. The gang wowed the audience. Joining the quartet was another, younger legend, Wynton Marsalis. The group of them slipped into Embraceable You
. A solemn reverence came over the crowd. It was a show of respect and awe. This ballad slipped straight into their hearts. It was truly beautiful. Brubeck and Marsalis. Marsalis is often seen with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in a group setting, but seeing him perform up front and in the open, made me once again realize what a killer horn player he really is! I mean KILLER!!! Closing out the set they went into a fun, romping rendition of Take The A Train
. Everybody was clapping along.
Jazz journalist Arnold Jay Smith came up to me with a smile after their dazzling display and said, "I think we just saw a little history. True. Brubeck and Marsalis.
My ol' buddy Mike Stern was about to begin his attack with Steps Ahead
. The band, usually with Michael Brecker, was instead joined by sax great and Miles Davis' alumnus Bill Evans. Michael Manieri on vibes, Steve Smith on drums and Richard Bona on bass rounded out the group. (Michael Brecker is ill. To see how you can contribute to help Michael, go to www.michaelbrecker.com.)
With the crowd staring in open-mouth disbelief as Stern rips into one of his burnin', screamin' guitar solos...he smiles as he finishes...happy with the results. The band is having a blast. It's obvious. Today had a nice mix of acoustic and electric jazz. Something for everyone.
I wandered over to the pavilion stage. There, saxman Joe Lovano was blowin' hard with Hank Jones at the piano. Joe Lovano and the Hank Jones Trio. I was told they were recording this Newport set for a 'live' Blue Note records release. Keep an eye out for it.
As I had to be at work in Manhattan at Jazz at Lincoln Center the following morning, I had to cut out early. This meant I had to miss two more great acts: the Chick Corea Trio followed by the Roy Haynes Birthday celebration. I read in the Newport Daily News
the next day that Pat Metheny showed up unannounced to jam with Haynes.
The crowd sung Haynes happy birthday as he brought out his own Fountain of Youth Band. Then the stage began to thicken with talent: Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Chick Corea, Gary Burton and the surprise guest-Pat Metheny.
I drove home happy and humming. Just another day in Newport.