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.
Saxophone player James Carter added some swing to the Quad stage with his organ trio, featuring Rodney Jones on guitar.
On the cozy Harbor Stage, there wasn’t an empty seat when the quintet of jazz bassist Christian McBride and Inside Straight took the stage. The quintet delivered swinging, straight-head jazz with a toe-tapping- feel good flavor. The band included Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums, Steve Wilson on alto saxophonist, Warren Wolf on vibraphone and Peter Martin on piano.
Continuing on the Harbor Stage, saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpet player Dave Douglas paid tribute to jazz legend Wayne Shorter with their own compositions; including “Sound Prints” inspired from Shorter’s “Footprints”.
Celebrating his 70th birthday, legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette took control of the Quad Stage along with guitarist David Fiuczynski and saxophone player Rudresh Mahanthappa.
He may be turning 70, however, DeJohnette demonstrated that he’s not going quietly into retirement. DeJohnette returned to the Harbor Stage with his all-star band featuring bassist Christian McBride, Tim Ries on saxophone and guitarist Lionel Loueke, all exploring improvisations on DeJohnette’s latest recordings.
Jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny ended the day at the main stage with his Unity Band, a new project featuring saxophone player Chris Potter. The playing was quintessential Pat Methany styling from beginning to end of the set with an amazing assemblage of computer-controlled acoustic instruments; including chimes, tuned bottles, and cymbals, all driven from Metheny’s guitar.
George Wein was honored by the Barcelona International Jazz Festival. Joan Anton Cararach, Artistic Director, presented Wein with a gold medal. The award was presented on Newport Festival’s main stage, in front of more than 5,000 attendees. Cararach described the Newport Jazz Festival as the granddad of all jazz festivals. Wein acknowledged the uniqueness of Barcelona’s jazz festival and the efforts made by its organizing company, The Projects.
On Sunday, the final day of the Festival showcased many current and new jazz artists. The Lewis Nash Quintet kicked off the day with original compositions featuring Lewis Nash on drums, Jeremy Pelton trumpet, Donald Vega on piano, Jimmy Green on tenor and soprano saxophones and Peter Washington on bass. Tunes included “Teddy”, and “Never Told You” written by Johnny Mendell from the movie “A Cold Day in the Park”. Many will remember this song interpreted by Quincy Jones with Toots Thielemans on the album “Walking in Space from 1969.
Many festival goers got seats at the Quad stage at least an hour before the much anticipated performance of jazz vocalist and composer Kurt Elling; featuring Laurence Hobgood, piano,
John McLean, guitar, Clark Sommers, bass, and Kendrick Scott, drums. Kurt has a wonderful way with the audience. He is laid back, with a very cool and soulful vibe. Elling’s baritone voice has such amazing range and resonance. The set included extraordinary arrangements of Come Fly With Me”, “Dedicated To You”, “On Broadway”, “Waking”, “Skylark” and “Golden Lady”.
The 3 Cohens brought a family reunion to the Main Stage, featuring siblings Yuval on saxophone, Anat on reeds and Avishai on trumpet. This was a terrific set with a tight a rhythm section including Reuben Rogers on bass.
Founded in 1954, the Newport Jazz Festival was the first annual jazz festival in America. Historic moments since its inception include performances by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Referred to as the grandfather of all jazz festivals, the event draws thousands of people from all over the world to Newport, Rhode Island each year.
We look forward to the 2013 Festival! Support Jazz Festivals!
More Photos from the festival are at Ben Johnson’s online photo gallery