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Oh, have times changed in Newport

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There was a time after the first phase of the Newport Jazz Festival (1954-1971), that jazz pretty much was a dirty word in Newport. The city, known as a playground for the super-rich, was a Navy town transitioning into a tourist mecca.

The jazz festival lost its luster after 1969 and 1971 riots by beer-swilling rowdies in the city, including gatecrashers who brought the festival to a premature end in '71. Producer George Wein took his festival to Manhattan but retained the NJF name. Conditions weren't right for a return to Newport until 1981.

Don't blame the 10-year absence on the festival itself. That was the time of the rock revolution, and the little city by the sea didn't have the capacity to deal with huge crowds of people, particularly rowdies who weren't there for the music.

The festival did return in '81, with a subdued ambience and a new setting—Fort Adams State Park overlooking idyllic Newport harbor. Newport again embraces jazz- and the companion Newport Folk Festival—in a big way.

There was a big sign of how embraced it is last weekend. Wein received an honorary doctorate from Salve Regina University in Newport. Pianist and bandleader Jon Batiste, delivered the school's commencement address on Sunday, May 21, and also received an honorary doctorate. Batiste is musical director for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and appears with his band Stay Human.

The 2017 edition of the Newport Jazz Festival will be here before we know it, with a three-day schedule of music at Fort Adams (four stages) and a Friday night performance at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in downtown Newport. The latter event will feature singer Rhiannon Giddens plus Trombone Shorty and his band Orleans Avenue.

The huge Newport lineup has something for everyone.

I'm particularly looking forward to these particular groups and a few more:
  • the Maria Schneider Orchestra
  • NJF artistic director Christian McBride's Big Band, with surprise special guests
  • Pianist Jason Moran's Fats Waller Dance Party
  • The trio of pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esparanza Spalding.
  • Hammond B-3 player Joey DeFrancesco's band The People
  • Drummer Antonio Sanchez and Migration
  • The 20-year-old collective One For All, which features tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trombonist Steve Davis, drummer Joe Farnsworth, pianist David Hazeltine, trumpeter Jim Rotondi and bassist John Webber
  • Singers Cyrille Aimee and Cecile McLorin Salvant
  • The new quartet Hudson, consisting of Hudson Valley residents Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, John Medeski and Larry Grenadier
  • Pianist David Torkanowsky (one of several players who will be featured in the intimate Storyville club in either solo or small group settings)
  • Pianist Cyrus Chestnut's trio
  • Tenor saxophonist Benny Golson's quartet with pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Carl Allen
Golson, now 88, is the grand old man in this year's lineup. He made his Newport debut 60 years ago (Saturday, July 6, 1957) as a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra.

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
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