All That Jazz: Our expert tells you the can’t miss sets at Newport Jazz Fest

It has been a long time for jazz fans to wait, but we are finally nearing the date when the historic Newport Jazz Festival will make its triumphant return to Fort Adams on July 30. For those who haven’t purchased your tickets yet there is still time but as we get closer and this incredible lineup looms on the horizon, I’d expect those available spots to tighten up, especially considering the reduced capacity for health and safety protocols. I’m excited for a smaller festival that will hark back to the early years of the festival and should make for some intimate performances. Though it may look and feel different from previous years, I’m thrilled to see what the Festival has in store for us all, so I wanted to highlight a few sets that I’m looking forward to experiencing. 

There are a few obvious sets and musicians that you’re going to want to check out like Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper and Christian McBride. Anything that any of those three are a part of will be jammed with festival goers and for good reason. The sets of Yola and Mavis Staples — who are both crossing over with the Folk Fest — are not to be missed, as well as Andra Day’s closing set on Sunday. For the rest of your day, try to explore some of the musicians you may not be as familiar with, and since there are only two stages this year, catching larger portions of their performances should be more manageable. 

Friday is going to be a day of heavy grooves including a set by guitarist Cory Wong, perhaps best known for his involvement with the sensational band Vulfpeck, but who has developed a widely praised solo career as of late. Chicago-based drummer Makaya McCraven will be leading his own ensemble through a set of interwoven grooves and beats inspired by hip-hop and spiritual jazz. And make sure you check out The Arturo O’Farrill Quintet, lead by pianist O’Farrill, who will bring Cuban and Latin rhythms to round out the day’s feast of grooves.


So far Saturday is the only sold-out day, but considering the stacked line-up, it’s easy to see why. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will bring the fun, vitality and history of NOLA to close out the day at the Fort, but before that, be sure to check out whatever project trumpeter Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah will be bringing as it will absolutely be the talk of the festival. If you need a primer for his music, check out the album Axiom, which was recorded live before the pandemic shutdown and released in 2020. After watching the Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science Tiny Desk concert that NPR released in early March last year, I am bubbling with anticipation to see what kind of artistry this group has in store. 

As with all good things, there must eventually be an end, and this year’s Sunday line-up is one for the ages. First of all, who needs any other reason to go than the presence of the legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd? But if you’re looking for more, do yourself a favor and lookup the line-up for the The Jazz Gallery All-Stars set, which will feature a roster of contemporary jazz All Stars. I’m intrigued to check out David Oswald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band, who I’m sure will be bringing the love and appreciation of not only Satchmo’s legacy, but a nice taste of the history of this musical form to their set.

Bring lots of sunscreen, a water bottle and good walking shoes so you can fully enjoy what this year has to offer. Hope to see you all at the Fort!

Newport Jazz Festival takes place at July 30 – Aug 1 at Fort Adams in Newport. For information regarding health & safety protocols and requirements, please visit newportjazz.org, where you will also find links to tickets, schedules, vendor lists and more.