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Looking at Festivals at Newport & Saratoga

Ken Franckling blogs about two festivals

George Wein’s team released the full CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival schedule for the August 6 to 8 weekend in the Rhode Island resort city. It’s a wide-ranging musical agenda – from mainstream jazz to Latin, traditional swing, instrumental pop, the avant-garde and a jazzy take on hip-hop. The lineup is peppered with a lot of up-and-comers. See the link for a full schedule, but I will note some groupings of interest.

By the way, ticket sales start on Friday, March 26 – and there is a great discount for something new – advance walkup sales at the Newport Convention and Visitors Bureau downtown before April 9 ($50 per day instead of the usual $69).

So here’s my take on the Newport schedule:

English piano jazz poster Jamie Cullum is the Friday night headliner at Newport Casino, with teenage alto sax phenom/vocalist Grace Kelly opening. Cullum is also back at Fort Adams on Saturday afternoon. Let’s hope he avoids the 2008 Chris Botti faux pas – when the trumpeter played the exact same set in both venues, right down to the stage patter. And let’s hope Botti brings some new music and conversation for his Sunday appearance rather than rehash 2008.

Chick Corea, Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride and Roy Haynes headline Saturday as the Freedom Band. The main stage opens with Jazz Mafia’s Brass Bows & Beats – a 45-piece Hip Hop Symphony. Ahmad Jamal and the Maria Schneider Orchestra complete the main stage on day one. There is lots to savor on the two supplemental stages, including the trio Fly, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society big band with special guest Bob Brookmeyer, and saxophonist J.D. Allen’s trio. Wein also performs Saturday with his Newport All-Stars.

Now here’s something cool for Sunday. Herbie Hancock closes out the afternoon with his band. Earlier in the afternoon on the Harbor Stage, Conrad Herwig’s band presents the “Latin Side of Herbie.” The day also includes a return appearance by Ken Vandermark, whose trio tore up the Harbor Stage two years ago, as well as Jason Moran, Matt Wilson and Ben Allison and their always-interesting bands. As I noted earlier, check out the lineup for much more to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.

Looking west

Also this week, producer Danny Melnick released the lineup for the 33rd annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, which is scheduled June 26 and 27 at the scenic Saratoga NY Performing Arts Center. Headliners include Gladys Knight, singer Al Jarreau & The George Duke Trio, Taj Mahal, Al Di Meola, Ramsey Lewis, Ahmad Jamal, and Juan De Marcos & the Afro Cuban All Stars. Full details and the lineup are at their their web site.

Wein created the festival at SPAC in 1978, eight years after rowdies sent the Newport Jazz Festival packing – and he found a 10-year exclusive home in Manhattan. It was a move that kick-started Wein’s career as a global jazz impresario. (Wein returned to Newport in 1981.)

Saratoga’s atmosphere has made it an annual must-do for loyalists who arrive year after year with their coolers, blankets, tents, umbrellas, friends and families. Melnick has been its artistic director and producer since 1999 – for most of that time as a member of Wein’s team.

Like Newport this year, Freihofer’s Jazz Festival has a nice mix of established and rising talent. The latter includes the bands of J.D. Allen, singer Alyssa Graham, trumpeter Mario Abney and bassist Linda Oh. While Grace Kelly shows off her talent at Newport as one of the Berklee College of Music’s prominent undergrads, at Saratoga, the showcase falls to 20-year-old saxophonist Hailey Niswanger (pronounced “NICE-wonger”), another Berklee student getting significant attention.

Two dandy weekends. I can’t wait.

Originally Published