Newport Jazz: "The music, the people and the place"
Dozen Bras Band. Photo credit: Michael Weintrob
For one weekend every August, the idyllic setting of Newport combusts with the passion of jazz to produce the Newport Jazz Festival.
Since its beginning in 1954, the festival has delivered line-ups that both have showcased jazz history and predicted it, while the city of Newport has lent the festival an unparalleled home steeped in history and culture.
Throw in fans that really are more of a community than an audience, and you have what George Wein, festival producer and Chairman of the Newport Festivals Foundation, says is much more than just a series of concerts. "By bringing together the music, the people and the place," Wein explains, "you create a festival, a real happening, an experience that is remembered long after the music ends." The 2013 festival will kick off at the International Tennis Hall of Fame with a Friday night concert under the stars.
Built in 1880 as the Newport Casino, the grounds of the Tennis Hall of Fame are a portal to an era of Newport elegance and Gilded Age charm. Whether sipping cocktails under the gazebo, or sitting in the stands beneath a cool Atlantic breeze, it's hard to imagine a better place to see this year's headliner, Natalie Cole, croon than on the same center court where the likes of Big Bill Tilden once made tennis balls sing. The core of the weekend moves to historic Fort Adams.
Set on a peninsula that juts out into Narragansett Bay, the fort is in and of itself a spectacular experience. Sprawling lawns. Breathtaking vistas. Nineteenth century stone buildings. And inhabiting all of that are the sounds radiating from the festival's three stages. This year they'll be coming from icons that include Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock; and up-and-comers such as Hiromi, Esperanza Spalding, Gregory Porter, and Miguel Zenón.
Listen to them from one of the three beer and wine gardens. Listen to them while enjoying the array of festival food. Listen to them while exploring the rows of unique and diverse arts and crafts. Or listen to them from the lawn of the showcase Fort Stage, where, in the shadow of the Newport Bridge, serious and casual music fans will be spread out on blankets and folding chairs, sharing lobster rolls and sharing stories, bobbing their heads to the rhythms of the legends they've come to see, and exchanging glances at the unexpected chops of emerging artists. George Wein suggests that part of what makes Newport and th e Jazz Festival so compatible is an unbridled mutual respect. They are both proud of what each has brought to the other, in terms of culture, commerce, and history.
But then get Wein to reminisce about Dave Brubeck's 50-plus appearances, or Ella Fitzgerald closing the festival in '54, or Duke Ellington's legendary 1956 performance of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue." Glance at the 1965 program, which shows a Friday night listing that reads "Jazz for Moderns," with Miles Davis' quintet sharing the bill with the John Coltrane Quartet, the Art Blakey Quintet, the Thelonious Monk Quartet, and Carmen McRae. Listen to the roaring crowds on the famed recordings.
Then you realize that what binds the city of Newport and the Jazz Festival is beyond rational explanation. It's in the air - a rich breeze of tradition that blows back over the Newport Jazz Festival every August, confirming where it's been, and reminding where it will go.
For the complete line-up, tickets and more information, visit www.newportjazzfest.org