Newport Jazz Festival
Saturday August 12, 2005
Newport, Rhode Island
I thought it might be a good idea to reminisce about of great day of jazz. Oh, the memories. It was this past summer that I hit up Saturday at Newport Jazz Festival
. It’s a crime that I’m from Massachusetts
and never went until recently. I would have stayed for Sunday but the lineup didn’t do too much for me, plus I was low on cash flow. Anyway, Saturday’s lineup did do a lot for me and it was the festival’s 50th year in existence.
Left Friday morning from Baltimore. Drive took a long time (probably four hours longer than it should have). So long, I was possibly cranky. Got to Newport
. Ate food, drank wine. Relaxed. Went to bed. Got up, refreshed. Went outside.
It was a hot, sunny-blue day in small city of Newport, close to 100 degrees if I remember correctly. Even more than the nice weather, I remember that the town was buzzing with jazz peoples; they came in all different forms. It was something witness. To get to the festival I, well, everyone had to take a water vessel to Fort Adams State Park
; it was a beautiful little island. I was in a boat with maybe 12 others. Approaching the small bit of land, I could already hear notes in the salty air.
While in line to get through the gates, I spotted a sign that read “No Alcohol.” A lot of people were getting busted for trying to smuggle in booze. Even though I would have a little red wine had I the chance, it was a smart move on the part of the festival organization. In that kind of heat, you’d only be asking for trouble.
To the music, I know. There are three stages at the Newport Jazz Festival: The large JVC Jazz Stage, the smaller Pavilion Stage, and the even more miniature Guitar Stage. Unless in between bands, the music continues on all three spots. That means you have to pick and choose what you’re going to see and hear. I had my plan.
I first went to the Pavilion Stage to catch Carla Bley & Lost Chords
. She’s a weird composer, almost classical in a sense of the way she writes sections. With the sun beating down, the audience appreciated everything she did with loud applause. I had just gotten into her a little before the festival and I thought it was a nice way to start off the day. Looking back, I stayed with the Pavilion for most of the day and never really made it to the Guitar Stage. The tunes on the Jazz Stage were a little more geared towards older folks in my opinion.
Next up under the Pavilion was the T.S. Monk Sextet
. T.S. is Thelonious Monk
’s son and a great drummer-bandleader. He takes a lot of inspiration from his father, playing off the late-great pianists more popular songbook. In between songs he talked about being at Newport Festivals with his father when he was younger. They were a fun band, swinging upbeat. It was a moving set of music for sure.
After Monk, pianist McCoy Tyner
hit the stage and served up what I considered to be the day’s highlight. He is an old dude but could still play his ass off. He is most known for being Coltrane
’s pianist in the ‘60s. He had a great solo career as well. Check out his ‘60s Blue Note
catalog. Anyhow, Ravi Coltrane
, John’s son, was on saxophone that day and you could hear, like T.S. to Thelonious, the inspiration coming from the father. In this case even more. The area around the Pavilion was crowded and the band went off. Truly a great musical moment in my life.
After the Tyner set, I moved over to the Jazz Stage to catch Medeski, Martin & Wood
. They could be my favorite live act in the world. I wondered how they would play their funked jazz fusion for the socially elite. They answered my free thought with true class, hitting moments of electric space, then moving to the more comfortable rhythmic acoustics. There were about 25 or so devotees dancing near the stage. Everyone else soaked it up while sitting on their beach chairs with a smile on their face. Great set, indeed. Afterwards, I stood in line and got the band to sign a CD I bought. Pretty cool.
At about this time, the heat was still coming fierce. People had already started to leave the island to go and grab some dinner. I wanted to stick around for Trio!
Trio! consists of the amazing bassist Stanley Clarke
, equally amazing banjoist Bela Fleck
, and again, equally amazing violinist Jean-Luc Ponty
. They played tunes that bounced in a way like a journey home after a long day, perfect for the mode the heat made us all feel. I left a little early and listened to the music as I stood in line for my boat. Then I left the island sunburned and fulfilled.
It was the best day of live jazz that I can remember. If you ever get the chance to get to Newport at the end of summer you really should.
What I've been listening up on:
Ornette Coleman The Shape of Jazz to Come
Dizzy Gillespie Afro
Medeski, Martin & Wood 2/26/06 Potsdam, NY
Miles Davis Nefertiti
Electric Masada At the Mountains of Madness