Newport Jazz Festival 2019

Doug Hall By

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A selection of highlighted vocal performances

  • Kandace Springs: Fresh on the heels of critically acclaimed release Indigo (Blue Note, 2018), crossing genres (covering her hero Norah Jones, Prince and Nina Simone), Springs brought the expectant NJF crowd a soulful and classy vocal sound. Springs took to the stage with her own jazzy interpretations of Roberta Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," and Stevie Wonder's "The World is a Ghetto," which were both crowd pleasers. Changing genre, Springs powered into Oscar Peterson's "Chicago Blues" and showed off her piano chops. Several other piano and voice-based songs rounded-out a full range for her exceptional, passionate vocals.

  • Corinne Bailey Rae: A British singer and songwriter from England, Bailey Rae has won several Grammy awards including Album of the Year (2008). Her release of The Heart Speaks in Whispers (Virgin, 2016) rose to #2 on Billboards R&B chart. Taking the main stage, Bailey Rae started her set with "Trouble Sleeping" harking back to her self-titled release. Gifted with a naturally rich, gorgeous voice, reminiscent in range and sensuous tone to Diana Ross, there was an authenticity to the emotion she delivered. Her band, Steve Brown (keyboards), Johnny McCallum (guitar) and Myke Wilson (drums) carried a full groove and driving rhythm, accompanying her heartfelt songs.

  • Concha Buika: Daughter of African parents, and growing-up in Spain, Buika immersed herself in the multi-culturalism of music without boundaries in the Mediterranean. The New York Post stated recently, "A singer like Buika comes around only once in a generation." With a husky, layered and imperious voice, "something like Nina Simone's but more flexible and virtuosic" (The New York Times), Buika astounded the audience at the main stage at the Newport Jazz Festival. She began with a vocal solo that was part individual poly-rhythm chant and then refrain with a deep powerful voice belting-out a totally emotional commitment. She owned the audience from that moment forward. Sharing further songs from her past releases, and improvisations of her own choosing as well as songs from her latest release, Vivir Sin Miedo (Warner Music, 2015), Buika garnered many new fans.

  • Dianne Reeves: Five-time Grammy winner and considered by fellow musicians and critics alike to be the pre-eminent jazz vocalist in the world. She receives accolades for her "breathtaking virtuosity, improvisational prowess, and unique jazz and R&B stylings." On the main stage, Reeves had an incredible, forceful presence, with an effortless strength and passion to her vocal interpretations. She covered Stevie Nicks' "Dreams" with particular emotional emphasis on the line "players only love you when they're playing" and then found the range for a soaring and impeccable version of Pat Metheny's composition "Minuano (Six Eight)" which was made famous by South American vocalist Pedro Aznar. Amongst other pieces performed, she made a particular song dedication to vocalist Buika, "I thought I would wake-up from a dream and sing like Buika-but that didn't happen—but here's my dedication anyway." With a natural rapport with the audience, Reeves was candid, funny and engaging along with delivering a knock-out performance.

  • Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Memphis Soulphony: Over the course of a multifaceted career spanning four decades, Grammy and Tony Award-winning Jazz giant Dee Dee Bridgewater has ascended to the upper echelon of vocalists, putting her unique spin on standards, as well as taking intrepid leaps of faith in re-envisioning jazz classics. Ever the fearless voyager, explorer, pioneer and keeper of tradition, the three-time Grammy-winner most recently won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee (DDB Records, 2009), a tribute to Billie Holiday.

    Boarding the main stage on a hot afternoon, Dee Dee Bridgewater's energy, vibe and smile brought the audience's attention, front and center. With a stompin' 8 piece band, Bridgewater talked to the crowd around the main stage like they were intimate friends, and then played a heartfelt version of R&B classic "Soul Finger" by the Bar-Kays from Stax Records, showing off her own style and swagger. Moving to blues, she took the tempo down a notch to re- interpret her own version of Howlin' Wolf's "Going Down Slow." And amongst other covers, soulfully rendered Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Giving Up." A classic demonstration of owning the stage and keeping it.

Emerging talents and new bands

The Newport Jazz Festival has always drawn top-drawer acts and acknowledged musicianship, but the festival's strength has also been to introduce emerging talent and to re-introduce hybrid bands that showcase again established talent that is coming at the audience in a different musical direction. Two performances, in that vein, stand-out in particular.

  • Joel Ross: Chicago native Joel Ross has performed with historic and seasoned artists—Herbie Hancock, Louis Hayes, Christian McBride, and Stefon Harris—as well as with cutting-edge contemporaries like Ambrose Akinmusire, Gerald Clayton, and Marquis Hill. Twice selected as a Thelonious Monk Institute National All-Star and a 2013 Young Arts Jazz Finalist—he's also had the opportunity to perform at the Brubeck, Monterey, Seattle, and Chicago Jazz Festivals—and-at internationally-celebrated venues like Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York, SF JAZZ in San Francisco, and Club Vibrato in Los Angeles.

    With his debut performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, following-on much talked about sensational buzz around this 23 year old, Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based vibraphonist, Joel Ross brought his quintet fresh from a European tour. Taking time to work-in a soft jazz tempo piece which featured a solo from pianist Jeremy Corren, the audience settled into a listening mode that allowed a quieter set of instrumentation. Ross shared the title cut from a new recording Kingmaker (Blue Note, 2019), sounding both sly and mysterious, as each band member shared the musical sentiment back and forth. Saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins was especially noticed by listeners, as he played soft melodic tones during several interludes of songs. Ross, a formidable talent on vibraphone, later in the set demonstrated a beautiful resonance in a solo piece that brought some people out of their seats with applause. Clearly a bright future lies ahead for this musician and the often overlooked vibraphone in the current jazz scene.

  • Jenny Scheinman and Allison Miller's Parlour Game Quartet: In their latest endeavor Parlour Game, violinist Jenny Scheinman and drummer Allison Miller dig into the rootsier elements of jazz along with the formidable pianist Carmen Staaf and bassist Tony Scherr. The repertoire explores swing, gogo, backbeats and ballads. Scheinman and Miller are both artists with eclectic backgrounds having collaborated with such diverse musicians as Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, Lucinda Williams, Natalie Merchant, and Renee Rosnes. In Parlour Game they explore the classic format of the piano quartet and strive for excellence in simplicity—the perfect groove and a melody that sticks.

    With a decades-long musical bond between Scheinman and Miller, an exciting dynamic was immediately clear to the audience under the Harbor tent at NJF, with a give and take between drummer and electronic violinist that had vital chemistry for the set. With a newly formed quartet, Scheinman set a pace for the band to follow on stage with a Ponty-like soaring violin presence. Drumming sparks and timed emphasis came regularly from Miller, punctuating with loud exclamations. Several cuts from their recent release were introduced and a particularly surreal song by Scheinman, entitled "Sleep Rider" created a slow trance-like moan on her violin. To mix it up, Parlour Game showed they could do a little country romp, straight-up blues and jazz swing. A solid imaginative set re-introducing the electronic violin as a lead instrument, front and center, in very capable hands.

Closing Thoughts

Fortunately for jazz listeners and performers alike, both Wein and McBride are keeping their musical ears and eyes open, peering ahead to the horizon for new talent and artistry. As Wein warmly reaffirms his choice of successor, he says that McBride will serve "as the beacon for future Newport Jazz Festivals." Wein and McBride have delivered a stellar line-up again for this year's 2019 performances, but ultimately it is the audience that needs to keep this festival alive, to continue supporting the discovery and journey of jazz, making a lasting vision to the legacy started by Wein over 60 years ago.

Photo Credit: Richard Conde


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