Newport Jazz Festival (Friday-Sunday, July 31- August 2, 2015); Fort Adams State Park, Newport, RI
The 2015 Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Global Asset Management Group offered something that is not always available at other jazz festivals: sunshine, bright skies, calm waters, spirited crowds, and top-notch music. Music that connected people to our common good. Music that called forth the divine. Music that was in the spirit of our musical ancestors.
This year’s Newport Jazz Festival, now celebrating its sixty-first year, paid tribute to legendary trumpeter Miles Davis. Author and jazz journalist Ashley Kahn peppered the Festival with panel discussions and talks about the differing aspects of ‘Davis’s life and career. The rest of the Festival was dedicated to the music and celebrating those committed enough to create it.
The Festival began on Friday, July 31,015, with Ambrose Akinmusire, Lucky Peterson, Gerald Clayton, Bria Skonberg, Herlin Riley, John Hollenbeck, Snarky Puppy and Christian McBride listed among/as the scheduled performers.; Though, thanks to Interstate 95, this writer can only offer commentary on performances by McBride and Snarky Puppy, Fridays’ line-up was a testament to the Festival’s commitment to preserving the integrity of the art-form. Jon Faddis, Jon Batiste, Joey Alexander, Cassandra Wilson, Jack DeJohnette, Lou Donaldson, Dr. John, James Carter, Jose James, Arturo O’Farrill, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Aaron Diehl, Christian Sands, Arturo Sandoval, and Jamie Cullum are just a few of the artists who performed on Saturday and Sunday (August 1 & 2, 2015).
While it is true that determining “best” performers and performances is subjective, particularly when it’s next to impossible to see every performance, here are a few highlights:
Christian McBride Trio with Christian Sands (piano) and Ulysses Owens (drums)
With an admitted bias, the Christian McBride Trio gave one of the most soulful performances of the Festival. McBride, one of the most celebrated bassists of his generation, at times engaged in technical acrobatics with Owens while also giving Sands the freedom to weave in and around the two as he saw fit. The trio performed a wide range of music from a spirited presentation of JJ Johnson’s “Interlude” to a sweet offering of the Michael Jackson classic “Lady in My Life.” On their own, each member of McBride’s Trio is a musical force to be reckoned with, but together, oh together, these men make magic.
Jon Batiste & Stay Human
Pianist Jon Batiste has the kind of energy that makes people happy to be in his presence. So seeing Batiste live and experiencing his infectious energy is always a delight to the senses. During his set, he kept the crowd moving with performances of “Why You Gotta Be” and “I’m From Kenner.” He’s such a crowd favorite that it might be worth it to consider having him perform every day of the festival. Listening to the crowd commentary following the performance, it’s safe to say that there are some who would make sure to show up for the performances every time.
Vocalist Jose James was a pleasant surprise. Performing a set of mostly Billie Holiday classics, James’s rich vocals put a unique twist on the music.
Never underestimate the performance power of a veteran. The multi-instrumentalist, whose career spans 30 years, played drums, piano, keyboard and trumpet while also taking several occasions to sing and dance. Audience members responded enthusiastically to whatever moves Sandoval made. Sandoval’s treatment of “Second Line” and “Manicero” offered the best opportunities for crowd engagement.
Mark your calendars for next year’s festival currently scheduled for July 29-31, 2016. Get ready, because it’s worth it.