Each year as July edges closer to August, I feel my ears prickle at the prospect of enjoying yet another edition of the historic Newport Jazz Festival. Now that I have been fortunate to have attended the festival for over half of my life, it has become a tradition unlike any other I know: one that guarantees not only familiarity and a sense of “going home,” but also comes with the joy of knowing that out there at Fort Adams is a new sound waiting to break through and steal my heart and mind for the next year. This edition of the festival promises those same rewards, and even more so considering we’re shifting back to the more maximalist vision of a festival, away from the stripped-down version we all enjoyed last year. So to get you prepared, here are three picks for sets on each day that I think should be considered as part of your festival watching schedule.
The festivities begin on Friday July 29, a day packed with ambitious newbies and old legends alike. Collaborations abound this year and few are as exciting as the prospect of McBride’s Newport Jawn, which is run by Newport’s creative director and bass master Christian McBride, and will feature an all-star cast including Chris Potter and Vijay Iyer. Having seen nearly every McBride set I could over the last few years and considering the personnel he has lined up, I’m anticipating a musically adventurous set that blends the best of everyone’s capabilities. For another set of creative mastery be sure to check out Terrence Blanchard. Not only is he an amazing trumpet player but also a composer of the highest caliber, having penned several large-scale pieces, including award-winning operas. And of course, all the native Rhode Islanders will need to give some love to the deep and dirty funk of Lettuce which features RI’s own Eric “Benny” Bloom on trumpet. And if you haven’t had enough by day’s end, grab a ticket to go see Nate Smith + Friends at the official after-show benefit going down at the Newport Blues Cafe on Friday night.
On Saturday I implore you all to do whatever you can to see Sons Of Kemet. They have been one of my favorite new bands over the last couple of years, had one of my top favorite sets of any festival and this will be their last year as a group so this may be your last chance to ever see them play. If you dig heavy percussion and exciting blends of sound, be sure to dig Antonio Sánchez & Bad Hombre which is described on his website as Sánchez’s “sociopolitical electronica & drums exploration…in which Sánchez turns his political anger into a moving musical statement as a protest against injustice in our current political climate and as a tribute to every immigrant’s journey.” And as has become somewhat of a tradition for me, I need to suggest yet another set from Cécile McLorin Salvant. She is beyond comparison in so many ways that one just needs to witness her brilliance to fully grasp it.
Ending the festival on a high note, Sunday is bursting with magnificent musicians. For starters- although I’m not hip to their music right now- I’m intrigued by what Jazz Is Dead Presents has to offer. It’s a record label that has an impressive catalog with a mix of younger artists and older icons. It’ll be interesting to see what they bring to the festival. I caught the last few minutes of a PJ Morton set at a past festival and I truly regret not being able to have seen more of him so I am overjoyed to be able to watch him again. His virtuosity, his joy and his embracing of so many sounds and styles will surely make for many people’s favorite set of the weekend. And of course, there is no better or more fitting way to end this year’s festival than Celebrating George Wein, a tribute to the man who started it all and reshaped modern music history with his festivals and his spirit. This set features a truly insane line up with Christian McBride, Trombone Shorty, Hiromi, and that’s just the folks listed on the poster. With so many incredible musicians appearing over the three days I’m sure we are going to get a musical experience the likes of which are rarely ever seen.
As a reminder, bring lots of sunscreen, a water bottle and good walking shoes so you can fully enjoy what this year has to offer. For more information please visit newportjazz.org, where you will also find links to schedules, vendor lists and more. Hope to see you all at the Fort!
Ben Shaw is a local composer, performer, and writer. Find him at benjaminshawmusic.com and on Instagram at @benjaminshawmusic.