Is This Jazz? Axes at the Fort: The Newport Jazz Festival returns

Every year at The Newport Jazz Festival, we are treated to an immense spectrum of performance that displays not only the deep history of jazz, but also the sounds of its future. This year will be no different. To give you a head start to figuring out the lineup, here are a few selections from each day that you should go dig.

There are a ton of really big names on the opening day, Friday, August 2, but none is more legendary than Herbie Hancock. To list his credits and to try to convey the importance of his music in this article would be redundant because at this point I just have to assume that anybody who digs jazz, digs Herbie. His is truly a face destined for the Mt. Rushmore of jazz pianists, so it should be a requirement to see any set he is on. Next on your list of legends is the less well known, but deeply revered, Sun Ra Arkestra, directed by Marshall Allen. They perform the repertoire of their former leader, the pianist and visionary composer Sun Ra, combining “big band swing, outerspace jazz, Afropageantry, singing, dancing and chanting.” Also on Friday will be the bass virtuoso Thundercat, who has been cutting his teeth for years as a sideman, singer and writing partner, playing with some the biggest names in music, including Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell and Michael McDonald. The last act to check out is Domi & JD Beck, a duo collaboration between keyboardist Domitlle Degalle and drummer James Dennis Beck who are both known for their next-level playing ability and deep-pocketed grooves. Check out their videos online to get a sense of the sonic realm they live in.

Headlining the Fort Stage on Saturday, August 3, is the immense force that is saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington. From his groundbreaking triple album The Epic to his most recent opus Heaven and Earth, Kamasi has risen to the heights of the jazz world and has transfixed audiences across generations with his electrifying band and soul-searching improvisation. Also performing will be the legendary Dianne Reeves who is not only one of the greatest vocalists in the game, but also a five-time Grammy Award winner. She has played all over the world and has shared the stage with some the best to ever play this music. One of the acts I’m most excited to see on Saturday is Jenny Scheinman & Allison Miller’s Parlour Game. Miller is one of the preeminent living jazz drummers, and their self-described sound “explores swing, gogo, backbeats and ballads.” To round out the day, go check out the young lion, vibraphonist Joel Ross and his “Good Vibes” project. Ross is a relative newcomer to the larger jazz world, but he has shared the stage with Herbie Hancock, Louis Hayes, Christian McBride and Stefon Harris and has been performing all over the world, with a debut album on the way.

Helping to close out the festival on Sunday, August 4, will be Newport favorites Tank And The Bangas. Ever since winning NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert in 2017, they have been on a whirlwind success tour around the world and have taken what was already a brilliant sound and heightened it. They are loud, funky and fun as hell. The group I am most excited to see over the entire three days is Sons Of Kemet; a sax, tuba and two drum set quartet out of London, lead by saxophonist and composer Shabaka Hutchings. They pull from a deeply rooted rhythmic language and play with an unmatchable energy that can be heard on their latest, explosive album Your Queen Is A Reptile. Since these festivals are known for their unique collaborations and one-off performances, I would also suggest checking out In Common, which is a super group composed of the mega quintet of Walter Smith III, Matt Stevens, Joel Ross, Harish Raghavan and Kendrick Scott. I have no idea what they’ll be playing, but with that line-up, it’s definitely a can’t-miss performance.

These few are only the beginning. The historic Newport Jazz Fest will feature a wide range of incredible artists such as Cécile McLorin Salvant, Ron Carter, Common, The Bad Plus, and plenty of special one-time performances that you may never see again. For more information and to purchase tickets, head to

Happening Around Town

The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra; first Monday monthly @ The Met (Pawtucket)

Groove Merchants; Mondays @ Fifth Element (Newport)

Travis Colby and Lisa Marie; every Monday @ Strings Bar and Grill (Johnston)

Jazz Jam; Tuesdays @ Ten Rocks (Pawtucket)

Leland Baker Quartet; Wednesdays @ Acacia Club (Providence)

Jazz At The Parlour; Sundays (Jam third Sunday, Ed Tomassi fourth Sunday) @ The Parlour (Providence)

Modern Sound Series; last Sunday monthly @ Tea In Sahara (Providence)

Is This Jazz?; (Providence) visit for listings

To add your listing, email

Ben Shaw is a local composer, performer, and writer. Find him at

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