Take a Sonic Census of Music at the Newport Jazz Festival August 3 – 5
with Jon Batiste, Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles, Sonnymoon,
Nate Smith + KINFOLK, Living Colour, GoGo Penguin,
BADBADNOTGOOD and R+R=NOW
Just as many musical genres went into the creation of jazz, jazz has also influenced those genres in reverse. That dialogue and musical exchange has been going on from the beginning, and well past the change of the 21st century, it shows no signs of slowing down, as evidenced by the stellar musicians gracing the Fort Adams stages at the Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Investment Managers August 3-5.
Any discussion of the interaction of jazz and its many influences has to begin with New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, the incubator of the blues, the cradle of gospel, the foundation of rock and roll and the crucible of Afro-Caribbean beats. The Louisiana-born pianist/bandleader/composer/ vocalist Jon Batiste- bandleader of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert – is the quintessential Crescent City musician. Classically-trained from a musical family, this Juilliard graduate, protégé of Wynton Marsalis, and Artistic Director at Large of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, brought The Big Easy to The Big Apple, jamming on the sidewalks of New York and in its subways with his group, Stay Human. With nine CD’s as a leader, including The Late Show EP, this swinging pianist is blessed with a style that harks back from Jelly Roll Morton to Herbie Hancock and beyond, laced with singing style that is both down home and uptown. With an infectious stage personality, Batiste returns to Newport on Saturday, August 4, for a solo performance, and never has the term “one-man band” ever been so apropos. “Jazz music is about the moment,” Batiste says in an interview for the CBS network. “It’s the most modern form of music arguably, because it’s literally created in the moment.”
New York City is another magical destination that has recombinated American and world musical idioms into its own distinct flavors. Hailing from Brooklyn, organist/keyboardist/vocalist Cory Henry,a former member of the jazz-pop group Snarky Puppy, was a child prodigy who started playing organ when he was two, sang at the Apollo Theater at age six and gigged with Kenny Garrett, Bruce Springsteen and The Roots. He encompasses the Empire State of New York’s vast music mind, from the most heartbreaking Hammond B-3 solo funeral elegy to a deeply riveting reboot of the BeeGees’ “Staying Alive.” Henry comes to the Fort Adams stage on Friday, August 3, with his group,The Funk Apostles. With this ensemble, you might see Cory jamming with a tambourine in his left hand, punching out those gospel-grounded chords with his right hand while playing selections from their 2018 CD, Trade it All. “Every influence that I could think of growing up is in this record,” says Henry. “I’m trying to break the barriers. The word funk is in our name, but I want people to know that this band is bigger musically than any one genre.”
Brooklyn is also the home of Sonnymoon, purveyors of electronica jazz, pop and hip-hop from vocalist Anna Wise – who collabs with Kendrick Lamar and sang the hook on his hit, “If These Walls Could Talk” – and her Berklee College of Music schoolmate, saxophonist/producer Dane Orr. Taking their name from Sonny Rollins’ composition, “Sonnymoon for Two,” the duo was founded in 2009 and has released three CDs, Golden Age, Sonnymoon andCourage of Present Times. When they take to the stage at Fort Adams on Friday with vocalist & dancer Jonathan Hoard, their earthy and sometimes ambient music will conjure up a cosmic collage of Steely Dan and the Eurythmics. “I think we’re looking to the past, sponging certain things as we listen,” said Orr on a YouTube video. “And we’re taking different techniques, and just kind of unconsciously putting it together to be a new product.”
The Virginia-born drummer/percussionist/producer Nate Smith is taking jazz and other musical genres to a whole other level. Recruited by legendary vocalist Betty Carter in her Jazz Ahead program, Smith later performed with bassist Dave Holland while in graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s worked as a sideman with Ravi Coltrane, José James, Nicholas Payton, Chris Potter, John Patitucci and Regina Carter. In 2009, Smith formed his own production company, Waterbaby Music, Inc. In 2017, he released his first CD as a leader, Kinfolk, a project that easily blurs the lines between jazz, pop and R&B. “In conceiving this project, I wanted to focus on creating the material with very few ingredients; just improvising at the drums or piano or singing ideas into a voice recorder, focusing primarily on rhythm and melody,” Smith says. “I want to see what other ingredients the players or singers would bring to the material.” See what Nate Smith + KINFOLK brings to the table on Sunday, August 5, and as that funky command bids, give the drummer some.
The Grammy award-winning group Living Colour has successfully fused Black and rock idioms for the last three decades. Today’s version of the group – guitarist/vocalist Vernon Reid, drummer Will Calhoun, guitarist Corey Glover, and bassist Doug Wimbish – released Shade in 2017, a 13-track CD that includes Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues,” Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?” and a compelling reading of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” Glover said to Grateful Web, “What better way to talk to the world than through the blues? We recorded ‘Preachin’ Blues’ several times to jump start the project and that got everybody fired up. After that, we were ready. ‘Shade,’ in its final outcome, is more of a deconstruction of the blues than an interpretation. It was the idiom that gave us our voice.” See them live on Friday and hear that voice in all of its Afro-futuristic truth.
The blending of jazz with other musical forms is also a global affair. The Manchester, England-based piano trio, GoGo Penguin – pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner – draws upon electronica, minimalism, rock, and jazz to create textured expressions at home with the downbeat and the download. Their latest CD, A Humdrum Star, swings with a crystalline approach to melody, especially on tracks “Return to Text,” the percussive “Hundred Moons” and “So it Begins.” Their performance on Sunday will show that the shape of jazz to come is already here.”The sound of GoGo Penguin is really just the sound of the three of us together and the combination of our different influences,” says Blacka from an interview from the website Rhythmpassport.com. “We just take some of the things that we like in electronica and try to play them on our instruments as best as we can ….”
Across the pond in Canada, Toronto quartet BADBADNOTGOOD – keyboardist James Hill, bassist Chester Hansen, saxophonist Leland Whitty and drummer Alexander Sowinski – in a sense are a traditional jazz band that covers pop tunes. What makes them cutting edge is that the pop tunes are from the hip-hop canon. With six CDs under their belt, they worked with the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, Drake and the WuTang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. They opened for vibraphonist Roy Ayers and they swing a mean rendition of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation.” Sure, you’ll wonder why the drummer may be wearing a pig mask at the Fort on Friday, but with their groove, you’ll be too busy bobbing your head to notice.
If there ever were a supergroup at Newport, R+R=NOW is one of them. The group consists of Grammy award-winning Houston-born keyboardist Robert Glasper, who is equally at home with Monk or hip-hop producer J Dilla; alto saxophonist/producer/ keyboardist Terrace Martin, the mastermind behind Kendrick Lamar’s epic CD, To Pimp a Butterfly; the New Jersey bassist and long-time Glasper collaborator Derrick Hodge; the fearless trumpeterChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah from New Orleans; vocalist Taylor McFerrin(son of Bobby McFerrin) and drummer Justin Tyson. When they take to the stage on Friday at the Fort, they’ll be performing selections from their new CD, Collagically Speaking, a new mystic brew of electronica, hip-hop, and alt-rock sonically seasoned in a rhythmic recipe with a touch of the improvisation imperatives of the jazz aesthetic (released today). The selections include the surging up tempo “Resting Warrior,” the mellow-mooded “Change of Tone,” and the contemplative “Colors in the Dark.” According to Glasper, the idea for the band came from him co-producing a compilation album for a Nina Simone film entitled Nina Revisited, and he was inspired by her determination to tell it like it is about what is happening in the present compilation “R+R stands for ‘Reflect’ and ‘Respond,” he says. “when you reflect what’s going on in your time and respond to that, you can’t not be relevant. So ‘R” plus ‘R’ equals ‘NOW.'”
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; Alicia Olatuja; Michel Camilo; Grace Kelly; Laurie Anderson & Christian McBride Improvisations with special guest Rubin Kodheli; and Roy Hargrove.
For tickets and additional information, go to www.newportjazz.org.
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.