There’s a story, an angle to the Newport Jazz Festival this year, other than the long-running narrative about it being an enduring institution of jazz and, by extension, a pearl of American culture. Twenty-seventeen marks the first edition under the artistic directorship of bassist, composer and broadcaster Christian McBride, alongside the festival’s feted co-founder George Wein.
What does that mean to Newport’s veteran festivalgoers? On the surface, not a whole lot. McBride has inherited a well-oiled machine that sounds crisp and tends to run like clockwork. On Friday, you could feel his presence in bookings like James Brown alum Maceo Parker, leading a lived-in and locked-down band on the main stage, and Christian Sands, the piano phenom who raised his profile performing in McBride’s groups. But then again, Maceo could have filled the need for a mid-afternoon crossover act just as easily in years past, and Sands is precisely the brand of rising talent that could comfortably work the smaller Harbor Stage, no nepotism required. The same goes for McBride’s Philly pal Joey DeFrancesco, the Hammond virtuoso who closed out the Quad Stage with the hardest core of soul-jazz and postbop.