Newport Jazz Festival: Smooth Sounds Swing on the Sea Air


Standing in a field under full sun is the last thing anyone wants to do; unless, of course, said standing is accompanied by a jazzy soundtrack. It’s time to head back to Fort Adams for another incredible year at the historic Newport Jazz Festival, taking place August 3 – 5. To keep you moving and grooving around those fields as much as possible, here is a brief guide to some of the major acts and themes this year.

There are so many new ensembles – at least to Newport – that when I was planning my listening schedule, I found myself forgetting to consider the huge stars and instead opting for the brilliant players I haven’t heard of or just learned about. Musicians like Nate Smith & Kinfolk, Charenée Wade and the Marquis Hill Blacktet all offer a glimpse at not only where the music is currently, but where it’ll go next. However, I also am excited to see what Gregory Porter, Pat Metheny and Roy Hargrove will have in store, and even more so to catch the all-star casts of R+R=NOW (Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Derrick Hodge, Taylor McFerrin, Justin Tyson) and Still Dreaming (Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley, Brian Blade), who will be closing out their respective stages on Friday.

Take note of the take-over of the three-day schedule by Charles Lloyd. This is in part to celebrate his 80th birthday and also to spotlight one of the most unique saxophone players and composers of all time. Over his career, Lloyd has played with an enormous range of musicians and ensembles, and in almost every genre imaginable, all of which will be apparent at Newport. Friday he will be playing with drummer Eric Harland and tabla master Zakir Hussain in the group Sangam. Saturday he’ll be with the Charles Lloyd New Quartet, with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Harland. Then on Sunday he’ll blow out the candles with Charles Lloyd & Friends, which will feature appearances by Moran, Rogers, Harland, Marvin Sewell, Stuart Mathis and the one and only Lucinda Williams.

The abundance of amazing women artists and woman-led ensembles this year cannot be overstated. There is Nicole Mitchell’s Dusty Wings, Grace Kelly, Alicia Olatuja, Mary Halvorson, Helen Sung and the incredible super group Artemis (Cécile McLorin Salvant, Renee Rosnes, Anat Cohen, Melissa Aldana, Ingrid Jensen, Noriko Ueda, Allison Miller), to name a few. Jazz has always had a rough relationship with the “boys’ club” mentality, and it is heartening to see the festival embrace what we already know: Women are making some of the best, if not THE best, jazz, and have been doing so for years.

There is also an interesting connection to Cuban music taking place over the course of a few different sets (JANE BUNNETT AND MAQUEQUE, Harold López-Nussa Trio, Herlin Riley New York-Havana Connection), which is a great way to show jazz’s relationship to and fusion with Cuban music. And there seems to be a proliferation of electronica or dance-infused jazz from ensembles like GoGo Penguin, Sonnymoon and Louis Cole Big Band Blowout that will be fascinating to hear and will help show fans how jazz musicians adapt the palette of all types of music.

This seems to be the year of the duo with Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves, the Jennifer Hartswick & Nick Cassarino Duo, Harold Mabern & Eric Alexander, and many others. A lot of amazing trios that will be playing as well — Trio 3, Isaiah J. Thompson Trio, James Carter Organ Trio — but duos can lead to some of the most interesting moments you’ll hear over the weekend, since they are all about the one-to-one connection between musicians and the  dialogue they engage in. Make time to stop by the Storyville stage to see the duos performing, and bear witness to this communication in the most intimate venue available on the festival grounds.

The Newport Jazz Festival takes place at Fort Adams, Newport, August 3 – 5. For tickets or more information, go to To see Ben’s annotated schedule, go to 

Happening Around Town:

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

Is This Jazz?; first Friday bimonthly @ AS220 (Providence)

Groove Merchants; Mondays @ Fifth Element (Newport)

Jazz Jam; Tuesdays @ Ten Rocks (Pawtucket)

Groove E Tuesday; Tuesdays @ Murphy’s Law (Pawtucket)

Jazz At The Parlour; Sundays (jam held every third Sunday) @ The Parlour (Providence)

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

Leland Baker Quartet; Wednesdays @ Acacia Club (Providence)

 To add your listing email isthisjazzri@gmail.comBen Shaw is a local composer and performer. Find him at

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