For the past six decades, the Newport Jazz Festival has been the premier showcase for jazz’s most supremely loved vocalists, from Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, to Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. And, this year’s edition of the festival continues in that hallowed tradition.
 
Whether he’s channeling the message music of Gil Scott-Heron or Joe Williams’ upsouth urbanity, the two-time, Grammy Award-winning Gregory Porter’s emergence on the scene in the last decade confirms that he is one of the coolest and most compelling vocalists of his generation. In a Marvin Gaye minute, this California-born crooner can deliver a lyric that spans from the profound question “What’s Goin’ On” to the provocative proclamation “Let’s Get it On.” And, when Porter takes to the Fort Adams stage on Sunday, August 5, he’ll give the audience more of that sweet sound heard on his 2017 Nat King Cole tribute CD, sonically shaped by Porter’s silken, syncopated soul and vivid vocals.
 
Minneapolis-born José James has covered a lot of artistic ground since he hit the scene, first as a finalist in the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocalist Competition, and with his imaginative and eclectic recordings that ring with the hip jazz-folk influences of Gil Scott-Heron, Billie Holliday and Terry Callier as well as hip-hop swagger and neo-soul nuances. When James takes the Fort Adams stage on Saturday, August 4, (he also joins Pat Metheny on Friday, August 3, at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino) he will celebrate the music of soul icon Bill Withers, the plaintive and poetic singer-songwriter whose hits, including “Lean on Me,” Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Use Me,” defined a generation. Withers turned 80 on July 4, and James’ tribute will be both a born-day shout out, and an invigorated, ingenious and moving meditation to a major musical figure by an artist who is also a rising star in his own right.
 
St. Louis’ Alicia Olatuja is another shining star with an endless horizon of talent. She sang at President Barack Obama’s second Inauguration, and put her brilliant and buoyant stamp on the music of Chaka Khan and Michael Jackson, to name a select few. Trained in jazz, soul, gospel and classical genres, she earned a Masters Degree in Classical Voice/Opera from The Manhattan School of Music, and worked with Khan, BeBe Winans and organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. The Newport Jazz Festival’s Artistic Director Christian McBride is a fan of her work, as evidenced by his appearance as a sideman on her 2014 debut solo CD, Timeless. So when Olatuja steps up to the mic at Fort Adams State Park on Friday, August 3, she will perform with a vocal aesthetic that combines a plethora of vocal genres into one profound and pleasing mezzo-soprano.
 
The Grammy nominated Andra Day performed at The White House, and is a new planet orbiting a sun emitting rays of R&B, soul, and jazz. Born in Spokane, Washington, and raised in San Diego, California, Day grew up jazz channeling Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. After working a series of odd-jobs, she was discovered by Stevie Wonder’s wife and when she appeared in a popular Christmas video with Wonder, a star was born. Building her brand with a series of YouTube video covers of artists including Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill, her first CD, Cheers to the Fall, released in 2015, contained her anthemic hit single, “Rise Up.” She had an eager audience waiting for her at Newport Jazz last year, but had to cancel when she fell ill the day before. But, Day again fixes her gaze upon the audience at Fort Adams State Park on Saturday, August 4, and her earthly airs will communicate with passion, intelligence and integrity.
 
Integrity, along with ingenuity, is something the great singer Betty Carter brought to every bandstand and recording she performed on. She distilled her great knowledge to generations of young musicians in her bands and in her Jazz Ahead educational program. Brooklyn’s Charenée Wade is a 21st Century diva who was a graduate of Carter’s program. She also took part in Dianne Reeves’ Artistic Workshop at Carnegie Hall, participated in JAS Academy Summer Sessions, directed by Christian McBride and is a Manhattan School of Music alumna. A finalist in two Thelonious Monk International Vocal competitions – once as a first runner-up in 2010 – Wade worked with a number of jazz stars including bassist Rufus Reid, saxophonist Tia Fuller and pianist Eric Reed. Her 2015 CD, Offerings: The Music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson (which also features McBride), offers a powerful and poignant preview of the kind of social message music she’ll bring to the Fort Adams Stage on Saturday, August 4.
 
With first-place wins at the 2015 Thelonious Monk and 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competitions, Texas-born, Jazzmeia Horn isa graduate of The New School and also a Betty Carter disciple with shades of Sarah Vaughan and Abbey Lincoln thrown into her complex cauldron of influences. She comes to the Fort Adams stage on Sunday, August 5, fresh from a sensational world tour in support of her Grammy-nominated debut CD, A Social Call. Horn’s velvet voice combines Carter’s bop-like fluency and phrasing, Vaughan’s operatic airs and Lincoln’s conscientious cries. Her vivacious vocal chops made her an in-demand sidewoman with everybody from Wynton and Ellis Marsalis and pianist Kirk Lightsey, to saxophonists Billy Harper and Frank Wess. With a name like Jazzmeia Horn, she indeed, was born to sing and swing!
 
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; George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic; Jon Batiste; R+R=NOW; Michel Camilo; Grace Kelly; Laurie Anderson & Christian McBride Improvisations with special guest Rubin Kodheli; Roy Hargrove and many more.
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.

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Ryan Belmore has been the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp since 2012. He also currently works for Mountain News, where he serves as Senior Editor - North America for OnTheSnow. He previously worked for the New England Patriots and American Cancer Society. He currently serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).