“I view the [jazz] tradition as being like the roots of a tree,” the bassist Christian McBride told JT writer Nate Chinen in 2013. “But you can’t just have the roots. Something’s got to grow out of that: different branches, leaves, the tree’s going to get taller.”
That’s a familiar set of metaphors that are also strong and right. And they reflect the way McBride took to his first year as the artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival, helming the venerable institution with its co-founder, George Wein. In many ways McBride is both a populist and a progressive, but you’d be nuts to say he hasn’t upheld jazz’s most righteous technical and cultural tenets. Just taking into consideration its final day, McBride’s Newport had it both ways and then some: modern-mainstream jazz headliners, slightly lower-profile postboppers, groove-jazz as interpreted by some of our best musicians, a taste of the avant-garde (a slighter presence than in previous years) and the Roots, the adult-friendly hip-hop band, led by McBride’s high-school pal Questlove, that has helped many a bona-fide jazz festival move a few more tickets.