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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.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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