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2008 Newport Jazz Festival: Finale!

Timothy J. O'Keefe By

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With Newport in full swing, bassist Esperanza Spalding took the small Waterfront stage before a huge crowd that brewed in anticipation. Spalding's joyful attitude quickly came through as she warmed up with melodic, scat voicings—and cracked a note that was woefully out-of-tune. "I'm just kidding," she said with a smile. As soon as the words left her mouth, the band kicked into "I Adore You," a song that is introduced by showcasing Spalding's use of scat. Towards the end of her scat segment, she belted out one long, sustained tone to an audience eruption.

Spalding's scat reappeared towards the end of the second song, "She Got To You." During the band introductions, Spalding cleverly played on the scat style by voicing the individual syllables making up the names of her bandmates: Otis Brown on drums, Leo Genovese on piano, and Ricardo Vogt on guitar. At the conclusion of the number, Spalding, in a show of class, brought George Wein, pianist and festival cofounder, on the stage, to a splendid response.

Returning to the classic Newport sound, Spalding performed an arrangement of Betty Carter's "Jazz Ain't Nothing but Soul." The piece featured marvelous piano work and ended to great applause. Showcasing their creativity, the band broke into a fast, up-tempo version of Nina Simone's "Wild Is The Wind."

Herbie Hancock

When the applause for Spalding's final song slowly fell to silence, the sounds of Herbie Hancock wafted through the air. Judging by the masses that had gathered at the main stage, many people felt obligated to take in Hancock's performance. The stellar lineup of guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta drenched the audience with funk.

Beginning with "Actual Proof," a shuffling piece started by Colaiuta's drumming, Loueke's funky, rhythmic guitar work provided a solid foundation upon which Hancock and Potter each took a solo. Joined by singers Sonya Kitchell and Amy Keyes, the band performed "River" (from River: The Joni Letters) as well as "When Love Comes To Town," and "A Song For you."

Mixing things up, Hancock sat behind the electric keyboard, delivering a lengthy, 15-minute rendition of "Chameleon." The encore, guitarist Loueke's "Seventeenths," was a technical marvel. Based on a time signature using 17 beats per measure and heavily syncopated bass phrasings where Holland bent some notes and let others ring out, Loueke's composition provided a dynamic ending to Hancock's set. With the conclusion of "Seventeenths," it took some time for the audience to simmer down, then Soulive prepared for the Pavilion stage.


The sun was dropping as the funk-based organ trio took the stage, but the music quickly began to heat up. Soulive opened with a scorching version of "El Ron." Eric Krasno tore into a guitar solo, gripping the audience as he darted in and around the rhythmic interworkings of drummer Alan Evans and organist Neal Evans. As the final note of Krasno's solo rang out, the audience burst into applause.

"This is our first time here," said drummer Alan Evans, "Glad you could stop by."

Midway through Soulive's second song, "Steppin,'" seats emptied, people stood, and bottoms shook. The music slowed, coming to a pause, crashing back in full fury with Krasno's slashing guitar work encouraging yells and screams. Drummer Alan Evans broke into an astonishing solo, bringing the few people still seated to their feet for a collective ovation.

Fred Wesley

The fourth piece, "Bobby Bird," introduced a horn section featuring none other than Mr. Fred Wesley. Wesley, who arranged three pieces on Soulive's first album, got a call one day. "They asked me to do some arrangements. We had a good time and they wanted me to appear as a guest. That's how we connected."

With the first three trombone phrases Wesley blew, the audience showed its appreciation for the legendary musician known for his stints with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic. As Wesley stepped to the mic for a solo, the dancing audience rhythmically and repeatedly chanted "Fred, Fred! Fred, Fred!"

According to the 2002 biography, Hit Me, Fred, Wesley always wanted to play jazz. The chance to do so finally presented itself in the late 1970s when Wesley took the trombone chair in Count Basie's Orchestra. The stint with Basie, which included an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, was relatively short-lived. Wesley decided to leave the orchestra because it was too difficult to support his wife and three children on a jazz musician's salary. In his biography, Wesley comments: "The music I loved the most paid the least." Wesley, reflecting on the comment, added "I knew it before, but I figured I would maximize it."


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