Is This Jazz? Newport Jazz Festival ’17: Where To Start


On Friday, August 5, the world’s best jazz artists will once again make their yearly pilgrimage to Fort Adams for another exciting Newport Jazz Festival. Over the past few years, the festival has been stepping up the line-ups and has done an amazing job of balancing the old guard with the young lions, simultaneously showing how this music has gotten to where it is and where it’s headed next. The diversity of groups and sounds is no less prevalent this year, with what has to be one of the more stacked bills in recent history. While we may not be able to hit on every “must see” act in this feature, here is a glimpse into who to watch out for and the sets you’ll probably be running to.

For the past few years, Snarky Puppy has been a relentless force in the international jazz scene. Formed in 2003 by composer/bassist Micheal League, this powerhouse ensemble has performed thousands of shows across six continents, and has collaborated with Lalah Hathaway, Laura Mvula, Salif Keïta, David Crosby, N’Dambi, Becca Stevens and Jacob Collier. Their intricately arranged and flawlessly executed charts are as stunning as the whirlwind improvisations traded off throughout the group.


I can’t say this enough: Cécile McLorin Salvant is the best jazz vocalist working today and absolutely one of the all-time heavies. Her melodic phrasing and command of the depths of her voice are truly unmatched. Beyond her once-in-a-generation talent, her band is loaded with chops, giving this ensemble an edge in crafting unique interpretations of old favorites and outstanding originals and letting Salvant’s voice stretch and dance above the music swirling around her.

Before her unfortunate passing this year, the incomparable pianist Geri Allen was set to perform as part of a dynamic trio, alongside Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington. To honor her legacy and musical gifts, Spalding and Carrington will present “Flying Towards The Sound: for Geri, with Love,” featuring pianists Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran and Christian Sands. Gerrie Allen stands tall in the hearts of the jazz faithful, especially pianists who modeled their playing after hers, so this set is sure to be a passionate tribute to one of music’s most revered.

Leslie Odom Jr. made his mark as Aaron Burr in the Broadway sensation Hamilton; however, his talent far exceeds that which could be held to a single stage. He comes to the fort for his Jazz Fest debut on the heels of his first self-titled release in which he dives into standards and classic tunes from around the American songbook, paying homage to a great body of work that precedes him while adding his own special twist.

Called “perhaps the most important jazz composer of his generation” by The New York Times, Henry Threadgill is a master multi-instrumentalist and one of the most forward thinking minds in jazz. As an early member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Threadgill helped pioneer an all new understanding of improvisation and composition that has remained as influential and relevant today as it ever was. Each piece takes his ensemble, Zooid, through epic journeys with unique arches, quirky angles and a whole world’s worth of sound and exploration.

There is so much happening over the three days of the festival, so for more information, artist bios and links to music, head to Have fun at the Newport Jazz Festival, travel safely on your journey and be sure to let me know about your experience and your favorite sets. See you there!

Happening Around Town:

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

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

Allary At Arias; Sundays @ Arias Lounge (PVD)

Groove Merchants; Mondays @ Fifth Element (Newport)

Jazz JamTuesdays @ Ten Rocks (Pawtucket)

Groove E TuesdayTuesdays @ Murphy’s Law (Pawtucket)

Parlour Jazz Jam; third Sunday each month @ The Parlour (PVD)

Jeff Platz Quartet’s Modern Sound Series; last Sunday each month @ Tea In Sahara (PVD)

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Ben Shaw is a local composer and performer. Find him at or on Twitter @ahueofshaw.