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Friday, August 10th: The Newport Casino at The Tennis Hall of Fame. This year's festival opened in a somewhat more intimate locale than the stadium-size Ft. Adams State Park where its two days of main events happen. The Newport Casino at the Tennis Hall of Fame is a perfect outdoor venue for a lovely evening of great jazz. The summery charm and opulent atmosphere of Newport's bygone era are recalled here in this lovely shingled enclave. The sight lines to the center stage are all pretty good. Most are excellent. And the sound system this Friday night was as they say, "close enough for jazz." A NIGHT OF TWO STARS Given the fact that drummer, Roy Haynes, at 75 is one of the legends of jazz and has earned the status of headliner if anyone has, it would seem only right that relative newcomer, singer/pianist, Diana Krall, should open for him.
However, that wasn't the case on Friday's premier performance. Haynes and his edgy young quartet opened for Krall and though he received a warm welcome, it was clear this crowd was here to for the girl singer. Haynes is definitely a drummer's drummer. His phrasing, his time feeling and his overall conception are all totally original. None of that originality has waned after all these years, either. In fact, he is even more energetic and inventive than ever. The trouble seems to be now that Haynes really wants to dazzle you. And so he does. Then he be-dazzles you, and then he re-be-dazzles you. About mid-way into the third tune, I found myself wishing he would just settle into the groove for a few choruses and lay off the statement and re-statement of the tune's chord structure for a while.
Diana Krall came out looking run-me-over-gorgeous in a little low-cut black dress. She proceeded to live up to all the hype about her lately, and then some. Like the great Nat Cole, Krall is as excellent a pianist as she is a singer. After a very up tempo version of "I Love Being Here With You," she told the appreciative crowd that she'd just had her wisdom teeth out two days ago. The operation did not seem to hinder her way with a lyric in the least. Krall gave a relaxed, sexy rendition of "I've Got You Under My Skin" that would have made Cole Porter himself stand up and wave his hanky. Her usual guitarist, Dan Fanly, was absent, stuck on the tarmac at Washington, D.C. and so until he arrived, we got to hear a bit more of Krall's piano-playing than usual. She has great technique, interesting phrasing and the girl can swing.
Fanly showed up mid-way through the set and the trio became a cohesive quartet. The crowd had come to see their favorite new jazz vocalist and they definitely got their money's worth (with the possible exception of a few over-martini-ed women on our side of the bandstand who insisted on standing up and "singing along" while they jiggled their olives to the beat. Thankfully, the crowd soon shushed them up.)
Krall came back for an encore‹a solo rendition of an Elton John tune that satisfied both the pop and the jazz fans in the audience.
Saturday, August 11th: Fort Adams State Park Compared to the relatively intimate setting of last night's Newport Casino, the big stage at Fort Adams seems vast. One of the problems I've always had with jazz festivals per se is that they present what is, to me at least, supposed to be a very intimate form of music in the most un-intimate of settings.
When you could find a clear sight line through all the bobbing heads and umbrellas, the musicians looked like tiny specks‹and sounded like they were in another town. The weather was damp and steamy this Saturday and there were a few sprinkles throughout the day.
There is a second venue at Fort Adams called the Mercedes Benz Pavillion, and it is much more conducive to small group jazz and the sound here wasfine.
But there's a good side and a bad side to having dueling venues: performances often overlap and you may have to miss one group to see another.
The good thing about it is that, if you time it just right, you can avoid waiting for each group to set up their instruments and do their sound checks. It doesn't always work that way though. I found myself wondering what I might be missing at one stage while I was trying to concentrate on what I was seeing on the other.
Singer, Nora York, opened in the Mercedes Benz Pavilion, a tent with open sides that is not much larger than a good size night club. Tall, blond and intense looking, York put together an interesting blend of folk music, cabaret singing and jazz stylings. I'd say she was a perfect example of the Festivals admitted attempt to "blur the lines" between jazz and other popular forms of music. The smaller setting was a definite plus in York's case and the audience connected with her right from the git go.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.