NEWPORT, RI: The Newport Jazz Festival has been one of the greatest showcases for jazz pianists in the past six decades, including Duke Ellington, Erroll Garner, John Lewis, Mary Lou Williams, Dave Brubeck and more. This year’s cross-section of keyboard titans is no exception. Bringing their piano magic to Newport are Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Eddie Palmieri, Bill Charlap, Michel Camilo, Robert Glasper, Hiromi and Jon Batiste.
Produced by George Wein and the Newport Festivals Foundation, Inc., whose mission is to maintain the iconic Festival in perpetuity while presenting the ever-evolving cultural expression of jazz, the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Global Asset Management, takes place August 2 – 4 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at Newport Casino and Fort Adams State Park.
From his days as a sideman with Miles Davis, his legendary Blue Note albums and his pioneering jazz-fusion Headhunters band, to his genre-defying tributes to George Gershwin and Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock – the composer of “Maiden Voyage, ” “Dolphin Dance” and “Speak Like a Child” – has literally played every kind of music in the five decades he’s been on the scene. Buoyed by a forthcoming CD and his long-awaited memoirs to be published next year, Hancock comes to the festival to celebrate Wayne Shorter’s 80th birthday on Saturday, August 3. Performs as a special guest with his former Miles Davis band mate, look for Hancock and Shorter to repeat the mindful magic they created on their first duo recording, 1 + 1, released in 1997.
Another Miles Davis alumnus, Chick Corea, has followed the same artistic orbit as Hancock, as evidenced by his canonical acoustic trio masterpiece, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, his influential acoustic-electric group, Return to Forever, as well his forays into world, Latin and classical music. Corea has inspired generations of musicians, and he always surrounded himself with musicians who inspire him; which is the case with Vigil that joins him in Newport on Sunday, August 4. This new ensemble, which conceptually evolved from RTF, features all-world bassist Christian McBride, drummer (and grandson of Roy Haynes) Marcus Gilmore, Tim Garland on reeds and woodwinds, and guitarist Charles Altura, performing classic Corea compositions and new works. “It’s a brand new band. I have many great young musicians that I want to learn from, ” says Corea. “They’re really keeping the culture of music alive. They’re keeping this vigil. And I can see that in the way they’re dedicating themselves to their music. I want to present a concert that encompasses everything that I love to do with music.” And, people definitely love what he does with music, as evidenced by his two Grammy awards at the 2013 ceremony.
Corea and Hancock have something else in common: the great Afro-Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria. Hancock’s first hit “Watermelon Man, ” was inspired by Santamaria, and Corea also played with the conguero in the early sixties. That was around the same time that the Puerto Rican pianist/bandleader Eddie Palmieri, AKA The Sun of Latin Music, and trombonist Barry Rogers co-led a group called La Perfecta; which featured a then unusual two-trombone lineup, which helped give birth to salsa and energized Latin Jazz. Now, with dozens of classic salsa and Latin jazz recordings under his belt, including the historic El Nuevo Sonido/The New Sound with vibraphonist Cal Tjader, Palmieri, who was just named an NEA Jazz Master, and his anthemic, Salsa Orchestra will transform Newport into Spanish Harlem on a hot summer day on Sunday, August 4. And in doing so, he will deliver a sonic census of our Afro-Latin American population. “When I formed La Perfecta, I started trading records with Barry Rogers, ” Palmieri told Jazz.com. “I’d loan him a La Sonora Matancera album, and he’d loan me Thelonious Monk. That’s how I was introduced to Kind of Blue, Thelonious, and Bill Evans, all of the pianists. All of that music, plus the small Latin group Cal Tjader formed with Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo, were my jazz foundations.”
A generation after Palmieri is the Dominican-born wunderkind and George Wein discovery Michel Camilo. Blessed with superhuman technique, expansive composing skills and an engaging, crowd-pleasing demeanor, Camilo could be thought of as a successor to Palmieri: he has a clear and comprehensive command of Latin American genres – from the Cuban clave to Dominican pambiche rhythms, extensive knowledge of the jazz keyboard tradition, from Monk to Oscar Peterson, and a complete grounding with American popular songs. Featured on the movie and soundtrack Calle 54, Camilo – who’s new solo piano CD, What’s Up?, will be released on the revived Okeh label – takes to the Newport stage on Saturday, August 3, with a sizzling sextet featuring trumpeter Philip Michael Mossman, trombonist Conrad Herwig and bassist Lincoln Goines, who replaces his longtime bassist Charles Flores, who died last year. Camilo’s hemisphere-honed artistry makes him a truly Pan-American improviser of the first order.
On the other side of the world and a generation younger than Camilo, is the Japanese phenom Hiromi. Discovered by Oscar Peterson and mentored by Ahmad Jamal, this diminutive dynamo is a direct keyboard descendant of her island nation’s piano giants Junko Onishi and Toshiko Akiyoshi. This Berklee grad hit America with full force with her debut CD, Another Mind, and hasn’t looked back. And her Newport appearance on Sunday, August 4, will no doubt feature selections from her latest CD, Move, her nine-track musical diary of a day in her life featuring bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips that features rock and classical idioms. “You know, when I wrote these songs it was really good for me because I could really see objectively how my days are, ” she told NPR. “So, I basically wake up and I pack up my suitcase, checkout from the hotel, then I get in the car and usually I have to take, like, the first plane in the morning. So I usually leave the hotel before the sunrise. And when just driving to the airport, slowly I see the sunrise. And I think that's why the song Brand New Day, the song, really gives me the excitement and joy to go to the next city to play.” She says she always looks enjoys performing in Newport, and this time she brings Anthony Jackson and Steve Smith.
Like Hiromi, New Orleans-based pianist Jon Batiste is a conjurer of styles in his own right. A classically-trained graduate of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and Juilliard, who was also featured on the HBO series Treme and Spike Lee’s, has performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center and is co-director and music curator at The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. His CD’s include Times In New Orleans, Live In New York: At The Rubin Museum Of Art, MY N.Y., and two EP’s The Amazing Jon Batiste and In The Night. He’s worked with an impressive array of musicians including Prince, Jimmy Buffett, Harry Connick Jr., Roy Hargrove, Cassandra Wilson and Wynton Marsalis, and was recently featured at Jazz at Lincoln Center performing a heartfelt rendition of John Lewis’ jazz classic, Django. He can go from Bud Powell to Professor Longhair, and his band Stay Human literally takes it to the streets in second line fashion, nobody will be sitting down in Newport on Sunday, August 4. “When I’m playing, interestingly enough, I’m trying to connect to something rather than convey a message, ” Batiste told The Revivalist “I feel when I’m playing, I try to connect to a source that everyone in the room is familiar with … I try to tap into what people are really gravitating towards in contemporary times that uplifts them.”
Jazz was an uplifting musical force when it was in vogue as a popular music from the thirties to the fifties, and the music of Gershwin, Cole Porter and many others supplied the sonic script that was specific to jazz and universal to everyone. New York-born pianist Bill Charlap was literally born into the world. The son of songwriter Moose Charlap – the composer of Peter Pan – and singer Sandy Stewart, Charlap literally grew up on the American popular songbook. “I don't ever remember not playing the piano, ” he told writer Whitney Balliet. “The songs of Arlen, Gershwin, Porter, and Berlin were paramount in my house, and so jazz is about vocalism for me.” Though he’s worked with a wide variety of musicians, from Phil Woods, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Steely Dan and his wife, pianist Renee Rosnes (check out their 2010 duo piano CD Double Portrait), Charlap – who serves as the Artistic Director of Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y Jazz in July series, is best known for the sterling and swinging trio with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington which he has led since 1997. Their 2007 recording Live at the Village Vanguard offers a preview of what you’ll hear from them at Newport, plus they accompany vocalists Freddy Cole (August 2), and soprano saxophonist Bob Wilber and clarinetist Anat Cohen (August 3).
It may not seem so, but Robert Glasper is as faithful to the American popular song as Charlap. But the popular song in the Houston-born Glasper’s era is hip-hop. His 2013 Grammy-winning Black Radio CD (in the R&B category!) featured his group, the Experiment – Casey Benjamin on vocoder, and alto sax, drummer Mark Colenburg and bassist Derrick Hodge, and the crème-de-la-crème of stars including Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Lalah Hathaway and Me’shell Ndegeocello. Blessed with a percussive and poignant piano style that is at home with Thelonious Monk and the rap producer J Dilla. Glasper’s genre-embracing artistry is a harbinger of the shape of things to come. “With Black Radio, the Experiment is less of a straight-up jazz band, ” Glasper said in the Contra Costa Times. “It's more electric and it's more hip-hop-based. Old people come in there sometimes and have to plug their ears. So, it's mostly a younger audience — which I'm fine with, because the older jazz audience pretty much already knows what I'm about, what I can play. These days, my whole quest is to get a younger audience and to get people thinking out of the box.”
These eight pianists will present a sonic smorgasbord of 21st Century piano moods and grooves at this year’s Newport Jazz Festival. But, will we see a certain Massachusetts-born impresario/pianist sit in to tickle the ivories?
“I was playing classical music on the piano when I was seven or eight years old. I switched to popular music because I used to sing as a kid and wanted to accompany myself. When I heard jazz and improvisation on my brother’s records, I said to myself, this is interesting. I have to get to this. Next thing I knew I was playing jazz, ” said George Wein, CEO Newport Festivals Foundation and Newport Jazz Festival Producer. And, next thing the music world knew, he was producing America’s first annual jazz festival in Newport in 1954 and presenting some of the world’s greatest pianists and other jazz giants in the city that started the festival era.
The Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Global Asset Management features Natalie Cole and the Bill Charlap Trio with special guest Freddy Cole, at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino (194 Bellevue Avenue) on Friday, August 2, at 8:00 pm. The festival continues on Saturday, August 3, on three unique stages from 10:30 am – 7:00 pm at Fort Adams State Park (90 Fort Adams Drive). The roster includes Wayne Shorter’s 80th Birthday Celebration: Wayne Shorter Quartet featuring special guest Herbie Hancock and Danilo Perez, John Patitucci & Brian Blade; Marcus Miller; Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society; Michel Camilo Sextet; Terence Blanchard Quintet; Robert Glasper Experiment; Gregory Porter; Lew Tabackin Quartet with Randy Brecker, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash; Donny McCaslin Group; Edmar Castañeda; Ray Anderson Pocket Brass Band; Amir ElSaffar Two Rivers; Bill Charlap Trio with guests Bob Wilber and Anat Cohen; Mary Halvorson Quintet; Rez Abbasi Trio; From Berklee College of Music: The Ali Amr Experiment; and others.
On Sunday, August 4, the music continues at Fort Adams at 10:30 am with Chick Corea & The Vigil with Christian McBride, Tim Garland, Marcus Gilmore and Charles Altura; Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra; Roy Haynes Fountain of Youth Band featuring Jaleel Shaw, Martin Bejerano and David Wong; Dizzy Gillespie™ Big Band under the direction of Paquito D’Rivera; Hiromi: The Trio Project with Anthony Jackson and Steve Smith; Joshua Redman Quartet; Jim Hall Quartet with Scott Colley, Lewis Nash and Special Guest Julian Lage; Jon Batiste & Stay Human; Dee Alexander: Songs That My Mother Loved; The Dirty Dozen Brass Band; Steve Coleman Projects: Five Elements, Talea Ensemble and Duo with David Bryant; David Gilmore & Numerology featuring Claudia Acuña, Miguel Zenón, Luis Perdomo, Christian McBride, Jeff “Tain” Watts and Mino Cinelu; and others.
TICKETS & OTHER INFORMATION
Tickets for the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Global Asset Management are on sale now at newportjazzfest.net, by phone and by mail.
There will be a festival office in the Newport area where tickets can be purchased in person at a later date. For general information, craft vendor information or to leave a message for festival staff, call the festival hotline at (401) 848-5055.