Newport Jazz Festival 2007

Ken Franckling By

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Pianist Eliane Elias
2007 JVC Newport Jazz Festival
Fort Adams State Park
Newport, Rhode Island
August 10-12, 2007

The spirit of late great jazz masters lives on through many of those who were influenced by them, and the 2007 JVC Newport Jazz Festival made those connections in a huge way. It was evident in a succession of bands taking to three stages at Fort Adams State Park on the Newport waterfront.
It was as if Dizzy, Monk, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Mingus, Getz, Jobim and Bill Evans were hovering overhead at times, smiling at the way their musical offspring were moving the music forward. The same thing happened on opening night at the historic Newport Casino, when Dianne Reeves' quartet and Nnenna Freelon, backed by the Count Basie Orchestra, carried forward the legacies of Ella, Billie Holiday and Basie, who headlined Newport in 1957. Neither singer has sounded better despite the soggy evening conditions.
For Friday night's opener, the evening started with showers but turned merely chilly by the middle of the Basie band's set, featuring Freelon in her first Newport appearance. The highlight was her version of "You've Changed ; she also treated the crowd to a scat-trombone duet with Dennis Wilson. Reeves is a master of improvising lyrics to the blues — using the occasion to sing about how she found her place in the jazz tradition and how much she respects being part of the Newport tradition on her ever-changing musical canvas "Testify." She also wowed the crowd with her versions of Harold Arlen's "One for My Baby (which she sang in the film Good Night, and Good Luck) and her interpretation of Jobim's "Once I Loved." No doubt, Billie and Ella and Sarah were smiling down through the clouds over Newport.
The daytime summoning seemed to begin when Joshua Redman's quartet hit the main stage before noon on Saturday. A few moments into his second tune — the otherwise light and delicate Rodgers- Hammerstein "Surrey with the Fringe on Top — the saxophonist dropped in one deep blast from his horn that would rival the biggest ship in the harbor most days.

While the more pop-focused acts were featured on the huge main stage, the strongest jazz presence most often was found on two smaller stages. Many jazz fans spent considerable time at those venues, which offer more musical intimacy to energize and inspire the players further.

Saturday's musical highlights were Redman, Branford Marsalis and Dave Brubeck on the main stage, Kenny Werner's quartet, seemingly ageless drummer Chico Hamilton and Gunther Schuller conducting the Mingus Orchestra on the Pavilion Stage and the meditative solo piano of Abdullah Ibrahim and saxophonist-clarinetist Anat Cohen's quartet on the Waterside Stage; Ben Riley's septet also honored his longtime boss, Thelonious Monk.

In addition to his elegant and swinging main stage set at mid-afternoon, Dave Brubeck, Newport's most frequent festival performer (30+ appearances since the mid '50s) also sat in for "Blue Rondo a la Turk when The Brubeck Brothers band, featuring sons Chris and Dan, performed earlier. Dan returned the favor, subbing for drummer Randy Jones, who had a surgery the prior week. Festival producer George Wein came out on stage to invite Brubeck back again in 2008. Marcus Miller's band then treated the crowd to an hour of funky, R&B-based electric jazz.

Sunday's finale featured some of the most stunning jazz performances Newport has seen in years - - on all three stages at various times. The Slide Hampton-led Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, featuring Roberta Gambarini, Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Heath and James Moody, honored Gillespie's impact on jazz in a splendid way on the main stage. Hargrove, Frank Greene, Tony Lujan and Diego Urcola were featured in the set's blistering trumpet extravaganza on "Things to Come." Clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera dropped by to lead the band through his poignant tune "I Remember Dizzy," but not before he announced he was changing its name that day to "I Remember Dizzy and Mario in honor of multi-instrumentalist Mario Rivera who died the prior week. A half-hour later, the Gillespie connection continued via his international interests as D'Rivera led his own Panamericana band through an hour-long set of exquisite Latin jazz, featuring spirited harp work by Edmar Castaneda.

Pianist Eliane Elias' Bill Evans homage with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Billy Hart was stunning. Her trio received wild applause after every tune they played — with standing ovations for at least three. And there was one big surprise. Elias used her Newport appearance to premiere a beautiful and typically introspective ballad, a new tune that she said Evans was developing but had never recorded or published prior to his death in 1980. She has titled it "This is for You." Later, Elias said the tune was one of four previously unheard Evans working pieces that were on a cassette tape she received from Johnson, the last bassist to work in the late pianist's trio. Evans fans will be the richer for it if those pieces are included on a new recording she plans with Johnson and Hart.

Tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and Trio da Paz, featuring three Brazilian-born musicians, celebrated the warm and breezy Stan Getz-Antonio Carlos Jobim connection when they opened the day on that same Waterside Stage. Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison's quintet then treated the crowd to the funky jazz of his native New Orleans, featuring his nephew Christian Scott, whose trumpet mastery had the crowd buzzing a year ago. On the intermediate-sized Pavilion Stage, trombonist Steve Turre honored the legacy and experimental nature of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who was best known for playing multiple unusual reed instruments, often simultaneously. At one point, Turre deftly juggled his collection of tuned conch shells, creating chordal effects by blowing into two at a time.

Sunday's three final main-stage acts were blues singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi (replacing Etta James), Al Green and BB King. The latter is still grinding out his classic hits, albeit from a chair at age 81. I found Al Green to be disappointing, though the main stage large crowd loved his classic soul hits and shtick. Why is a preacher grabbing his crotch as he dances like a young hiphopper? On a Sunday no less.

Photo Credit

Ken Franckling

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