For six decades, the Newport Jazz Festival has showcased the music of the most important female musicians in the art form – from Mary Lou Williams and Toshiko Akiyoshi, to Carla Bley and the late Geri Allen. And this edition of the festival offers a powerful potpourri of sophisticated ladies, who, while maintaining the base from where the jazz tradition comes, take the music into new and complex directions.
By anyone’s measure, the Chicago-based, flutist, composer, and educator Nicole Mitchell, is one of the most comprehensive artists of her generation. Her mastery of her instrument, which encompasses the best of the instrument’s canonical players, is only surpassed by her engaging and global approach to jazz composition and improvisation. Her musical conception was forged by her invaluable days as a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians aka the AACM (she served as the organization’s first female president), as evidenced by her seven CDs as a leader, which meld avant-garde, classical, African and jazz, Afro-futuristic genres into her own signature conception. Her 2017 CD, Liberation Narratives, features the legendary poetry of poet-activist Haki Madhubuti, whom she worked for at his publishing company, Third World Press. Mitchell leads several ensembles including Ice Crystal, the Black Earth Ensemble and the Black Earth Strings. She brings Dusty Wings with vocalist Fay Victor, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, bassist Rahsaan Carter and drummerShirazette Tinnin to Fort Adams State Park on Sunday, August 5, distilling her wide-ranging influences into new and uncharted dimensions of expression.
Any mention of the avant-garde must include the genre-breaking work of composer, writer, director, vocalist, and multi-media performance artist Laurie Anderson. From her breakout single, “O Superman” in 1981, to her seven albums as a leader, her self-made, musical instruments (including, her Talking Stick); to her numerous museum exhibits, films, photography and literary works, and her collaborations with Phillip Glass and Lou Reed, Anderson continues to gain critical and audience acclaim. She performed with bassist and artistic director Christian McBride in concert in 2017 at New York’s Town Hall, and she teams with McBride again on the Fort Adams stage on Saturday, August 4. Their performance, which also includes cellist Rubin Kodheli, will go as far as their comprehensive and combined musical imaginations will take them.
The Brooklyn-based guitarist Mary Halvorson has been one of the most innovative musicians on her instrument ever since she stepped on the scene in 2002. The Massachusetts-born Halvorson gained her jazz cred, working with the iconoclastic, avant-garde saxophonist/composer Anthony Braxton, guitarist Marc Ribot and the rock group Yo La Tengo. She’s released over 20 recordings as a leader, in a number of settings, from solo and trio to octet. Halvorson comes to the Fort on Saturday, showcasing music from her latest CD, Code Girl, with a quicksilver ensemble of the same name featuring vocalist Amirtha Kidambi, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, drummerTomas Fujiwara, and bassist Michael Formanek. With Halvorson’s steely, spare guitar lines, setting the pace and tone, this group will conjure up an aural alchemy brewed with Indian Carnatic stylings, driving rhythms, evocative lyrics and cutting-edge improvisations.
Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett has been cutting edge for three decades, interpreting the Afro-Cuban canon and writing original music thateffortlessly combines jazz improvisation with that island’s complex musical genres, with her seminal group, The Spirits of Havana, and with her collaborations with Cuban musicians including pianist Hilario Duran and percussionist Pancho Quinto. She comes to Fort Adams on Sunday withMaqueque, her ensemble, composed exclusively of Afro-Cuban female musicians: vocalist/percussionist Melvis Santa, pianist Dánae Olano, bassistCelia Jiménez, drummer Yissy Garcia, and percussionist Mary Paz. No doubt, they will be playing selections from their latest CD, Oddara, which includes dancing rumbas, sensitive boleros and an ingenious rendition of Leon Russell’s ballad, “A Song for You.” With her serpentine sax lines, Bunnett and her group will bridge the 90-mile gap that separates Cuba from the United States.
Alto saxophonist Grace Kelly,who was mentored by the great Phil Woods – who himself, was a student of Charlie Parker – bridges the post-bebop gap in her generation. Starting as a child prodigy, Kelly gained valuable experience working with Terri Lyne Carrington, Wynton Marsalis, Esperanza Spalding, DIVA and Jon Batiste’s Stay Human. She’s released 10 CDs, including her latest, Trying to Figure It Out. Kelly comes to Fort Adams on Saturday with the rare ability to put her bona fide straight-ahead jazz chops in any musical context, and make it swing.
The DIVA Jazz Orchestra, the 15-piece all-female big band led by drummer/educator Dr. Sherrie Maricle, celebrates their quarter of a century of swing with their latest release, The DIVA 25th Anniversary Project. Though it was Stanley Kay, who was the manager of the great drummer Buddy Rich, who heard Maricle play drums and helped organize the group that eventually became DIVA, the ladies have been taking care of business ever since, releasing 12 recordings and performing with stellar jazz stars including Dave Brubeck, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nancy Wilson and Carmen Bradford. So be prepared to be literally blown away on Friday, August 3, when they take over the Fort with their big, bold brass band.
Named after the Greek goddess of the hunt, the new supergroup Artemis is another exciting all-woman, ensemble composed of exceptional musicians from all over the world: the Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen; the Canadian pianist and musical director Renee Rosnes and her compatriot, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen; Japanese bassist Noriko Ueda, Chilean tenor saxophonist and winner of the Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition; Melissa Aldana; American drummer Allison Miller; and the Grammy-winning singer of French/Haitian heritage Cécile McLorin Salvant. When this aggregation performs on Sunday at the Fort, you’ll hear a star-studded ensemble that is forming and finding their own signature sound while presenting a set that is sure to become one of those Newport Jazz Festival concerts that is remembered for years to come.
Along with these aforementioned artists, the festival also boasts an impressive lineup of extraordinary chanteuses including, the Grammy-nominated R&B diva Andra Day (8/4); Canada’s Laila Biali (8/3); Michigan-based vocalist Estar Cohen, recipient of the ASCAP Foundation 2018 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer award (8/4); Brooklyn-born, Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition finalist Charenée Wade (8/4); Vermont vocalist Jennifer Hartswick with trumpeter Nick Cassarino (8/5); and the critically acclaimed, breakout singer and winner of the Sarah Vaughan and the Monk Vocal Competitions, Dallas’ Jazzmeia Horn.
The 2018 Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Investment Managers takes place August 3 – 5 at Fort Adams State Park and the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino. Artists include Charles Lloyd’s 80th Birthday Celebration with three different bands; Pat Metheny with Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh, & Gwilym Simcock; Andra Day; George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic; Jon Batiste; R+R=NOW; Alicia Olatuja; Michel Camilo; Grace Kelly; Laurie Anderson & Christian McBride Improvisations with special guest Rubin Kodheli; and Roy Hargrove.
Newport Jazz Festival’s official travel partner, WBGO Jazz 88.3FM, is offering Day Trips and an exclusive Weekend Package for festival fans. For more information, go to wbgo.org/Newport.
Natixis Investment Managers is the Presenting Sponsor of the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival and sponsors programs that help enrich the lives of individuals and preserve the cultural experience for future generations through music. In addition to Natixis Investment Managers, the Newport Jazz Festival also receives generous support from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, New Belgium Brewing and Eventbrite.
Newport Festivals Foundation fosters the legacy and expands the impact of its Festivals through educational initiatives that celebrate innovation while preserving the deep traditions inherent in Jazz and Folk music. The Foundation’s goal is to offer opportunity, inspire through exposure and facilitate the collection of resources needed for musicians to celebrate and innovate. The focus on creating unique experiences to spark engagement is accomplished through a variety of initiatives, including instrument donations and performances at schools throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. For more information, please visit www.newportfestivals.org.
For tickets and additional information, go to www.newportjazz.org.