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

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."

When pressed for trombone influences in jazz, Wesley cites Curtis Fuller and JJ Johnson, then continues: "There are so many...Wycliffe Gordon, he's the finest trombone player." Wesley names more, including Steve Turre and Kevin Eubanks. "I realize I'm safe in my genre of funky music because I didn't develop enough to compete with those guys." When thinking about his work as a jazz musician, Wesley stated, "I don't know where it would have led to, but I might have been a Kevin Eubanks. Funky music is big. I didn't know it was going to get as big as it did."

And Wesley knows funky music. His charismatic stage presence helped heighten Soulive's performance to an all-out party.

With Soulive's conclusion of "Bobby Byrd," Wesley returned to the mic. In a display of showmanship, Wesley encouraged the crowd: "Lemme hear you—We're gonna have a house party!" The organ trio, embellished by sax and trombone, tore up the Wesley original, "House Party," bringing the audience to a seemingly impossible level of enthusiasm. As the humorous funk number built to its peak, Wesley managed to push the audience even further, bringing on unified shouts of "Aint no party like a P- Funk party cause a P-Funk party don't stop!" When the driving beat finally ceased, the audience's volume was a deafening.

"When I do [a] show, I do all kinds of genres of music," Wesley said, "I try to make people glad they bought a ticket."

Soulive showed no signs of slowing down. With the audience in full bore, the band went into "Gimme Some More." Organist Neal Evans' funky rendition on the bottom parts would have made any bassist proud. After Wesley's interesting trombone work, Evans took over, playing a scorching, dynamic and richly layered organ solo.

The band pressed on with a relentless energy. Breaking into "Jesus Children/Stay," the soulful singer Anthony Hamilton took to the stage, teasing the audience with call and response vocals. In a dizzying frenzy, the music sped up, slowed down, and then raced forward again—hammering away at the captivating runs for which the band is known.

After a brief exit, Soulive returned for an encore, playing "Tighten Up," the funk standard written by Archie Bell and the Drells. Again, Neal Evans' organ steered the band, repeating bass phrasings while providing layers of embellishment. One by one, each musician took a solo, pushing and driving the music, before finally bringing the party to a screaming close.

Off in the distance, the saxophone work of Sonny Rollins shrieked and wailed on the main stage. Forty-five minutes later it was over—Newport had come to a close. All that was left were memories. While each and every person who attended will take away his or her own unique memories, Fred Wesley shares what he thinks will be some of his: "I'll take away my performance and I'll take away what I'm hearing—Dave Holland, Herbie Hancock, and Sonny Rollins."

The rest of us will take away your performance too, Fred.

Photo Credit

Michael Weintrob

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