2012 Newport Jazz Festival Review
by Karen Brundage-Johnson
Photos by Ben Johnson
August 3- 5, 2012
Produced and co-founded by legendary Jazz impresario George Wein, the Newport Jazz Festival was back on August 3-5, fifty eight years after it began in Rhode Island’s city by the sea. The Festival was presented by Natixis Global Asset Management. The Festival continues to showcase young talent and jazz legends spread around three stages – Main, Quad and Harbor. The location is one of the prettiest for a jazz festival at Fort Adams State Park, over-looking the Narragansett Bay.
The Festival began Friday night at 8pm with a concert by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a quintessential New Orleans institution, and Dr. John and The Lower 911 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Bellevue Avenue. The audience was treated to a surprise piano solo by George Wein performing a medley of New Orleans -style tunes.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performed tunes including “Bourbon Street Parade” and “I’ll Fly Away”. Special guest vocalist Catherine Russell dazzled the audience with her powerful jazz and swing vocals reminiscent of songs from the 1920s through 1940s. She sang “My Baby Don’t Love Nobody But Me” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” over a jazzy bass vamp. She stole the show and blew everyone away.
Following The Preservation Hall Jazz Band rousing performance, special guest pianist, composer and bandleader Jonathan Batiste performed a playful, introductory musical rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”, followed by the sultry “St. James Infirmary”, which he turned upbeat allowing the audience to join in on call and response. Batiste displayed great technique with a wide range of nuances and textures in his performance. Batiste is an iconic artist, unique in this generation. He hails from one of Louisiana’s most distinguished musical and has been featured on the HBO series “Treme”. Batiste is the founder and leader of The Stay Human Band, a modern jazz ensemble noted for their world-class music, high energy and uplifting spirit.
The second half of Friday evening’s performance belonged to Dr. John and The Lower 911 band. The audience was on their feet and literally dancing in the isles as Dr. John strolled on stage wearing his dapper New Orleans style. The band rolled right into “Revolution” with Dr. John on the organ, which was covered with a colorful-embellished cloth. The set was a feel-good mix of his classics and new compositions.
On Saturday, the fog rolled out welcoming sunny skies, warm temperatures and great music starting at 11:00 am. An upbeat tempo flowed throughout the day as the festival celebrated jazz in many diverse forms. Guitarist Bill Frisell led a memorable set dedicated to the music of John Lennon on the Main Stage playing with much passion towards interpreting the late Beatle’s beautifully composed tunes. The crowd went wild over the band’s rendition of “Come Together” featuring Jenny Scheinman on electric violin. Later, Frisell joined the Bad Plus band on the Quad Stage.