After two years of primarily mainstream programming that celebrated its roots, the Newport Jazz Festival threw lots of everything into the three-stage mix for its 52nd anniversary edition during the weekend of August 11-13.
George Benson, Al Jarreau, Angelique Kidjo and Chris Botti brought the pop crossover credentials, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Dr. John brought New Orleans traditionalism and swamp boogie respectively, and its indelible musical spirit collectively. McCoy Tyner's Impulse all-stars, perennial Newport performer Dave Brubeck and singer Andy Bey brought mainstream credentials, as did producer George Wein's Newport All-Stars septet. Arturo Sandoval and Eddie Palmieri brought the Latin tinge. The Bad Plus, bassist Avishai Cohen's trio, James Carter's organ trio, pianists Hiromi and Robert Glasper, and trumpeter Christian Scott showed that jazz remains restlessand has a youthful future.
Suffice it to say that these bandsand many otherswere part of an aural Newport tapestry that was both eclectic and comforting with a full weekend of postcard-perfect weather. The shock was disappointing attendance at Fort Adams State Park for the daytime events. (The festival capacity is around 10,000). Saturday's lineup, anchored by Benson and Jarreau, drew an announced crowd of 7,200. Sunday, the most fiery day musically, drew only 4,500. Was it gas prices, too much entertainment competition, the state of the economy, the lack of a crossover megastar? Or all of the above? We'll never know.
Those who passed Newport by this year missed some incredible musicand special moments. At every stage, mind you.
Tyner's all-stars fueled the Saturday main stage fire with their early afternoon set, with intense soloing in particular from saxophonists Donald Harrison and Eric Alexander and trombonist Steve Turre. As that set ended, marathoner Alexander ran to the second stage to join Cyrus Chestnut's set in time to play the last two tunes. Later in the afternoon, George Benson stopped by for Al Jarreau's first tune; while Jarreau sat in for three tunes at the end of Benson's set. Sandoval joined them for the finale"On Broadway . Harrison hung around the whole weekend, adding enthusiastic playing when he sat in Sunday with nephew Christian Scott's band, then the Eddie Palmieri-Brian Lynch duo, joined Dr. John for "Goin' Back to New Orleans and sat in with festival closer Botti's jazz quintet for "Relativity his final number.
A lot of the festival's finest music came on the second and third stages, particularly Carter's organ trio featuring fellow Detroiter Gerard Gibbs, and Scott's impressive trio. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was a second stage highlight on Saturday, complete with a rollicking, umbrella-toting second line on "When the Saints Go Marching In and a poignant John Brunious trumpet/vocal feature on "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans a tune that has taken on new poignancy post-Katrina. On Sunday, Wein led his all-stars on the second stage in what was his first Newport Jazz Festival visit in two years, and the first since the death of his wife, Joyce. His "Music Maestro, Please rendition spoke to music's power to help heal.
Singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli headlined opening night at the elegant Newport Casino tennis emporium (home of the very first Newport festival) with a big band tribute to Frank Sinatra. Nothing was more poignant than mid-set, when he brought his rhythm guitar-playing dad, Bucky, front and center for an instrumental version of "Body and Soul on which they switched guitarsBucky playing lead, John strumming the rhythm. The younger Pizzarelli's take on "Witchcraft was exquisite. Singer Jane Monheit's quartet opened. Her voice is a marvel, but she seemed as much into being the poseur as the chanteuse, though you could almost hear a pin drop during her version of "Alfie despite the crowd chatter that always mars the Friday night opener.