Newport Jazz Festival 2022
A Tribute To The Past With An Eye On The Future
This year brought the full return of the Newport Jazz Festival. The festival, which began in 1954, returned to full capacity, and their customary three stage setup. This was also the first festival since the co-founder and producer, George Wein, passed away. In recent years, Jay Sweet, the Executive Producer, and musician Christian McBride, the Creative Director, have exerted their influence upon the festival. Festival producers have sought a younger audience by bringing in a broader spectrum of musicians. Acts ranging from hip-hop to traditional jazz, funk, R&B, world, and rock were included in this year’s lineup. Fans responded to these changes, Saturday was sold out, with near sell outs on Friday and Saturday.
A generational shift in the audience and musicians was apparent. If the festival is going to survive, a younger, new audience has to be introduced to Newport. The younger musicians performing mirrored the faces in the crowd. Acts such as the alt jazz ensemble BADBADNOTGOOD, twenty two year old rising trumpeter Giveton Gelin, drummer, producer, and “beat scientist” Makaya McCraven, and the versitable exuberance of Emmet Cohen, demonstrated the current generations hold on jazz. Sons of Kemet, Theon Cross, Shabaka Hutchings, Cory Wong, and Bennevento/Russo were also all crowd favorites.
Change seemed to be the unofficial theme of this year’s festival. The 2022 Newport Jazz Festival was NOT your father’s festival. The weekend’s lineup was full of bands that could make you dance. New Orleans favorite brass band The Soul Rebels, hip-hop legends Digable Planets, Zambien born Australian based Sampa The Great, the progressive soul of PJ Morton, and the hard funk of Lettuce all had the audience on their feet. It was clear that these musicians’ backgrounds were steeped in jazz but the music was upbeat, danceable, something you would hear at a party.
Female jazz artists were well represented at this year’s festival. Grammy nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album, Thana Alexa, fused electronics, and vocal harmonies into unique arrangements. Celisse, dressed in red western style clothing emblazoned with mushrooms, emulated her inner Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Jazzmia Horn’s impressive vocal range and breathtaking scat singing left the audience elated. Samara Joy, the 2019 winner of the Sarah Vaughn International Vocal Competition, validated her future success. Esperanza Spaulding, The Baylor Project, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Lady Blackbird, and London based saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s performances were cherished by capacity crowds. And we cannot forget the vocals of Norah Jones who performed songs off of her breakout Come Away With Me, which was recently reissued. The vocalists’ warm voice on “Don’t Know Why” and “Say No More ” easily won over the audience.
Don’t worry, traditional jazz and the old guard were well represented. The band Tuba Skinny has come a long way from busking in the streets of New Orleans. Their 45 minute set of traditional jazz was one of the most popular of the weekend. Festival veterans Terrance Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, and Joe Lavano ruled the day. A highlight of the entire festival was 85-year-old bassist Ron Carter.
The final set of the festival was an all-star cast of jazz greats. Trombone Shorty, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Hiromi, Randy Becker, Jay Leonhart, Jon Faddis, Lew Tabackin, Anat Cohen, Christian Sands, Lewis Nash, and Christian McBride paid tribute to the festival’s founder, George Wein. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,”, “Sunny Side of the Street” and “St. James Infirmary” ended the heartfelt tribute.
By the end of the weekend the festival had introduced its audience to new faces in the jazz world without turning its back to the past. I imagine Wein is looking down upon what he created with a smile.
The next Newport Jazz festival will take place at Fort Adams State Park, in Newport, Rhode Island on August 4-6, 2023. https://www.newportjazz.org
Check out the Newport Folk Festival, here: Show Review: Newport Folk Festival 2022