This was Newport Jazz Festival’s 65th anniversary. Jazz luminaries such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Sarah Vaughn have all performed historic sets at the festival. With all the history the festival, it was refreshing the he 2019 festival was not about celebrating the past. Instead the festival focused on contemporary jazz performers and musicians that are heavily influenced by jazz.
Mwenso and The Shakes, whose members originate from Africa, Europe, Jamaica, and Hawaii whom now call Harlem home shared a performance combining music that merges entertainment and artistry. At thirty years old Kandace Springs sat behind the piano and connected the past with the present, mixing blues, classical and jazz into a stirring performance. Two of the youngest performers, DOMI and JD Beck introduced the crowd to their sound of up-tempo future-sonic jazz combined with with hip-hop breakbeats and luscious synth loops. Dary James Argue introduced his 18 piece big band to the Newport audience. The forty four year old band leader based out of Brooklyn, New York presented an ensemble with a 21st century sound. The dynamic saxophonist Tia Fuller proved herself as a band leader and her mastery of performing in four inch heels. The British singer songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae R&B singer soothed the crowd with her boundless grooves. The bassist/songwriter Thundercat’s youthful audience crammed into the SRO space in front of the Fort Stage. The seventies funk, R&B, jazz fusion gumbo captivated the crowd. Finally Bad Plus debuted their newest member Orrin Evans to Newport. Bad Plus 2.0 proved themselves as a cohesive unit.
Without an official release Joel Ross gained the attention of New York Jazz critics. At Newport the vibraphonist shined and demonstrated himself as a capable band leader in his latest ensemble Good Vibes. Drummer Makaya McCraven’s “organic beat music” enthralled the mid-afternoon overflow audience at the Quad Stage. Buika demonstrated her wide range of influences, from jazz and flamenco to pop, soul and African rhythms. Twenty four year old James Francies proved why he was named one of “8 artists You Should Know” by the genre-bending website Revive Music. Ghost-Note headed by Snarky Puppy’s percussion duo of Robert Sput Searight and Nate Werth, futuristic funk had the entire crowd on their feet during their performance. Of course Kamasi Washington’s performance was otherworldly. The crowd left the grounds dazed but smiling looking forward to the final day of the festival.
Sammy Miller and The Congregation lifted everyone's spirits on Sunday morning. The Grammy nominated drummer’s enthusiasm was contagious. They captured the audience from the start. Christian Sands along with Helen Sung, and Tadataka Unno played a tribute to the legendary pianist Errol Garner. At only twenty eight years old Sands is one of the most respected pianists in our own time. Two young saxophonist, Marcus Strickland and Walter Smith III with In Common: performed separately in competing time slots. This was a shame since both artists are at the top of their game. Sons of Kemet proved that two drummers, a saxophonist, and a tuba player can become one of the most talked about acts of the festival. New Orleans was well represented with PJ Morton and Tank and The Bangas. Once again overlapping time schedules forced patrons to miss one act. Morton’s New Orleans R&B had the audience in the groove while Tank’s fiery soul, deft hip-hop, deep-groove R&B and subtle jazz gumbo spun heads!. Finally to close the festival Common’s message of peace, love, and understanding allowed the crowd to exit the grounds in unity.
Overall it was a beautiful weekend. The future of jazz is in good hands!