2008 Newport Jazz Festival: Finale!

Timothy J. O'Keefe By

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Newport Jazz Festival
Newport, Rhode Island
August 10, 2008
Sunday August 10th marked the third day of the 2008 Newport Jazz Festival. Three stages, fifteen acts, all on a peninsula that's home to Fort Adams State Park.
Mark Rapp

At the Pavilion stage, The Mark Rapp Band kicked-off the festival's final day with just the right mixture of attitude, tempo, and fresh sound. From the opening notes of this performance, the festival had a powerful undertow of funk. Rapp, a South Carolina native, and his entourage hooked and reeled-in a crowd that bobbed and jerked to the eclectic mix of sounds, erupting with applause at every opportunity.

The set opened with "'Nuff Time," an upbeat jam showcasing electronic effects on Rapp's trumpet. The tempo slowed slightly as guitarist Derek Bronston soloed over Jamie Reynolds' sparse keyboard phrasings. With the guitar screaming, the rhythm section, bassist Papa Ray and drummer Greg Ritchie, quickened the beat, bringing things back to full tempo for the final climatic measures of Bronston's solo. Seemingly without a pause, the band flowed into a segue—Papa Ray's bass groaned as he played with a violin bow and Rapp blew a droning, resonating pulse on the didgeridoo, an Australian wind instrument.

The pulse grew into a fast-paced groove called "1st Minute 1st Round," which thrived upon Rapp's trumpet ablaze with wah effects. The piece was inspired by, and meant to capture the bravado of, the famous Neil Leifer photo of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston—a knockout in the first round.

With the conclusion of "1st Minute 1st Round," the band came to a rest, receiving waves of applause. As the applause climbed to their height, Rapp stared at the crowd and shouted "Whoooo, I love you guys!" throwing things into a dither. The set continued with "Token Tales," music that developed around a conversation that occurred around 3 A.M. The fourth piece, an interesting arrangement of "Cissy Strut," was put together while Rapp was in New Orleans. This version features the classic riff from The Meters' funk hit ringing on Rapp's trumpet.

The final number, a ballad titled "Thank You," featured a breathy piano solo accompanied by Rapp's clean trumpet work. As the final number drew to a close, the audience applause exploded into a standing ovation.

In anticipation of the Newport appearance, Rapp admitted: "I wasn't sure what to expect." Humbly he stated: "I had to stop thinking about all the great trumpet legends that have come through here, Miles and Dizzy, and just try to be who I am and hope it was well-received by the audience. The audience here was so welcoming—to receive a standing ovation at your Newport debut, WOW!"

George Wein's Newport All-Stars

Newport wouldn't be Newport without a taste of the classic big band sounds that made the festival famous. Pianist George Wein's Newport All-Stars, consisting of clarinetist Anat Cohen, bassist Esperanza Spalding, guitarist Howard Alden, and drummer Jimmy Cobb, took the main stage and played big band era pieces including Strayhorn's "Johnny Come Lately" and Ellington's "What Am I Here For?" Clarinetist Cohen and guitarist Alden combined for a duo rendition of Jelly Roll Morton's "Shreveport Stomp."

Bill Frisell

In 2008, Newport tried something new—a Sunday Surprise. The emcee at the Waterside stage, that smallest of the three performance areas, stated the goal of the experiment was to provide a large star in the intimate setting of a small venue. Sunday's surprise featured guitar legend Bill Frisell in a trio format with bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen. On his web site, Frisell describes the trio as "probably the most flexible, spontaneous group I play with." The set started with Frisell's ethereal guitar sounds and the sun near its apex. As the day grew hotter, the crowd grew larger—slowly, but consistently throughout the entire set— with roughly half the audience overflowing beyond the covered seating area, enduring the sun's burning heat.

Chris Potter

With Frisell on the Waterside stage, the Pavilion stage roared back to life. Accompanied by guitar, drums, and Fender Rhodes piano, Chris Potter, the seasoned sax veteran, perhaps best known for his work with bassist Dave Holland, got a chance to stand out on his own. The set was introduced with a caveat from Herbie Hancock, who said "I want people to dance if they can feel the music."

The first piece, "Underground," featured Potter soloing with rhythmic emphasis from guitarist Adam Rogers, who bent and snapped at the strings of his guitar. The band explored free-form endeavors, emphasizing jazz as improvisational music. As testament to Potter's creativity and overall musicianship, he took the stage five times during the three-day festival.

Esperanza Spalding


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