Last Sunday I attended the Newport Jazz Festival. I'm happy to report it was outstanding and well worth the price of the tickets. I'm a long time fan of jazz and also like to play jazz guitar myself. So you might think this visit to Newport was just the latest in a series, but in truth, this was the first time I've gone. Why this time? The lineup on Sunday was outstanding, my oldest son is also now a huge fan of jazz and it fit our schedule. So we ate an early breakfast and drove my car down to Newport.
We had one wrong turn along the way, but still made it in plenty of time to hear the day's music. We started by staking out a spot on the lawn. The Fort Adams State Park, site of the festival, literally is a fort. The main Fort stage faces outward toward Narragansett Bay and the lawn seating surrounds a small island of reserved seats. We walked to the far side of the stage, close to the harbor, and migrated inward until we found a clear patch and set down our folding chairs. We were about two hundred feet from the stage, but the sound was very clear and a large screen offered views of the action on stage.
We promptly left that spot and headed to the other stages. In this venue, everything is set up in relation to the fort, so we passed one stage set up under a canopy to the left of the fort (Harbor stage) and continued through an opening into the fort to find the last stage (Quad Stage), also set up under a tent. Clouds from earlier in the day quickly burned off, leaving us with a warm day that required large amounts of sunscreen to fend off the sun and water to stay hydrated. Hence, the tents were very popular.
We began our day by taking a seat and listening to the Matt Wilson quartet. The first song was wild. Wilson's quartet played very open jazz ala Ornette and was accompanied by a jazz string section, which plucked along to match the avant garde stylings of drummer Wilson and his band. The raucous music - laid down by the instrumentation of sax, trumpet and bass in addition to Wilson's drums -- built to a crescendo and then backed all the way down to the quartet playing percussion on tiny porcelain tinker bells. Then the instruments returned and built the music up to a wailing finish. The music was out there, but clearly good. Whatever illusion I had that Newport's lineup would be mostly conservative was instantly demolished.
Next, we returned to the main stage, where a sextet led by pianist Amina Figueroa played melodic latin-tinged jazz that reminded me of the early days of Chick Corea's Return to Forever in their pre-electric days. The band was excellent and Figueroa's music was easy on the ears.
During the break, we headed for the concession stands in front of the fort and found a Greek menu to our liking. My son and I both ordered lamb gyros. A few minutes later they arrived -- thin slabs of lamb, covered by a bed of salad, onions, tomatos and mint, all covered in a light white sauce, then stuffed into freshly warmed folding buns, shaped like burritos, but much tastier. We also had mint flavored lemonades and a large combo plate of thick hummus and copious amounts of tabouli accompanied by slices of pita bread. We walked over to the portion of the lawn by the harbor, found a set of flat rocks to sit on and tended to our lunch. The food was all outstanding -- easily the best Greek food I've had in years. So we were well fortified to take in more jazz for the rest of the afternoon.
Here's a picture of the main Fort stage from where we sat.
Next up on the Fort stage was Arturo O'Farrell's Latin Jazz Orchestra. This band truly was an orchestra and had at least twenty musicians playing at all times. This group played with high energy and extends the tradition of latin jazz groups from bandleaders like Tito Puente and Chico O'Farrell. Arturo was very knowledgeable about the traditions of this music and offered expert commentary to go along with each song. One of the band's early songs was the result of a commission. The title: Wise Latina. This music had a contemporary feel and featured several of the band's fine brass players. A couple of songs later, jazz trumpet great Jon Faddis joined the group. His hot trumpet offered the expected stratospheric high notes and rapid flurries of sound, but he also played with a tone which at various times reminded me of either Miles Davis or Dizzie Gillespie. Later, the band played another composition which Arturo noted was consistent with the band's mission to extend the pallette of Latin jazz, in this case by bringing in Ecuadorian influences.
There was much more music on this day and I'll write more in my next post.