via Carolyn McClair Public Relations on behalf of Newport Jazz Festival.

From Duke Ellington’s rocking rhythms, Thelonious Monk’s melodious thunks to Mary Lou Williams’ spiritual swing and Michel Camilo’s island improvisations, the Newport Jazz Festival has been the premier showcase for pianists for decades. This year’s edition features a wide variety of keyboardists, shaping the state of jazz to come. 

The premier pianist for this edition of the festival is the 79 year-old, Chicago-born, Grammy and Oscar Award-winning keyboardist, composer, bandleader and humanitarian Herbie Hancock. He has shaped modern music over the decades, from his 1965 jazz classic “Maiden Voyage,” his work with Miles Davis and his pioneering Headhunters band to his jazz-hip-hop single “Rockit,” to his Joni Mitchell tribute and beyond. Hancock, who last performed at Newport in 2014, returns this year as the festival’s Artist-in-Residence.  On Friday, August 2, he will play with his cutting-edge quintet consisting of Los Angeles drum legend Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist James Genus, guitarist Lionel Loueke and alto saxophonist/keyboardist Terrace Martin (who produced Kendrick Lamar’s award-winning hip-hop album, To Pimp a Butterfly). On Saturday, August 3, Hancock, Colaiuta, and bassist and Newport Jazz Festival Artistic Director Christian McBride will join forces to present impromptu duets and offer a new look at some Hancock favorites. They will explore tunes from Hancock’s vast and varied canon, including “Textures,” “One Finger Snap” and “Chameleon” as well as bring a new composition to this historic engagement. The pianist also will perform at Newport Festivals Foundation’s annual Saturday evening Gala.

Every pianist at this festival is, in some way, influenced by Hancock. Though he was directly mentored by Dr. Billy Taylor and was a former sideman of Christian McBride, Christian Sands also counts the late Geri Allen as an influence, and she, too, was heavily inspired by Hancock.Sands can play the whole tradition, from James P. Johnson to Herbie Hancock, from stride, bebop, post-bop, Latin, fusion and avant-garde, as evidenced by his last three CD’s, ReachReach Further and Facing Dragons. On Sunday, August 4, Sands leads an all-star tribute to the legendary Erroll Garner (1923-1977), with pianists Helen Sungand Tadataka Unno. Joining the pianists are Luques Curtis on bass and Savanah Davis on drums. A self-taught improviser of the highest order, Garner earned his place on the Mt. Olympus of jazz immortality with his famous rendition of “Misty,” and was a major influence on generations of pianists. With Sung’s Houston-born pianism, which is evident on her latest CD, Sung With Words, and Unno, who performed with Kenny Washington, Frank Wess and Jimmy Cobb, this piano triad will no doubt do Garner proud, propelling his music into the 21stCentury.

For some of the pianists, the road to Newport started with competitions. In 2011, Aaron Diehl won the Cole Porter Fellowship from the American Pianists Association, with his incredible blend of John Lewis’ lyrical lines and Ahmad Jamal’s technique and motivic concepts. Diehl’s two major-label releases, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative and Space, Time, Continuum,were heralded for his intrepid interpretations of music by the Modern Jazz Quartet and Ravel, and performances with saxophonists Joe Temperley and Benny Golson. Diehl has worked with Wynton Marsalis, recorded and toured with vocalist Cécile McLorin-Salvant, performed with the New York Philharmonic, and received rave reviews for his performances of the Gershwin Rhapsodies and the music of Philip Glass. So, when the pianist takes the Newport stage on Sunday, August 4, with bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Kyle Poole, he comes equipped with a complete American and European classical mastery of his instrument. That same day, he also claims the piano chair with Ms. McLorin-Salvant. 

Camden, NJ native Eric Lewis won the Monk Piano Competition in 1999, and played with Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, and Elvin Jones, to name a few. He recorded his debut CD, Hopscotch in 2005; but, it wasn’t until he re-branded himself as ELEW did he unleash the full range of pianist powers he calls Rock jazz – an amalgam of boogie-woogie, ragtime, Afro-Latin rhythms, all performed with the pianist performing standing up. As ELEW, he has recorded Rockjazz, Volumes 1 & 2,and performed with The Roots, Lil’ Wayne and Josh Groban. ELEW’s solo performance on Sunday, August 4, can draw on selections from his latest CD, And To The Republic, or from his forthcoming solo recording that features the music of Philly guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. Whatever he plays, expect the sound of surprise from this mercurial artist. ELEW also will perform with Jon Batiste & Friends on Friday night at the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino. 

The celebrated pianist David Virelles hails from Santiago, Cuba. The latest in a long line of incredible pianists from that country, who are at home with Latin, American, and classical idioms, Virelles’ music encompasses Andrew Hill, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and the Afro-folkloric elements of Santeria, as evidenced by his last two critically-acclaimed CD’s Gnosis, andIgbó Alákorin(The Singer’s Grove). A compelling improviser who worked with Francisco Mela, Jane Bunnett and Henry Threadgill, Virelles joins saxophonist Ravi Coltrane on Saturday, August 3, in a spirited duet setting that will dance and trance. 

Hailing from Houston, the Bayou City of the future, James Francies comes to Newport on Saturday, August 3, performing music from his major label debut, Flight, a syncopated séance that conjures acoustic and electric soundscapes, laced by the pianist’s urgent improvisations. A graduate of the same high school that gave us Robert Glasper and Beyoncé, Francies represents a keyboard tradition from that city that goes back to Joe Sample of the Crusaders to Glasper and Jason Moran. Bassist Burniss Travis and drummer Jeremy Dutton round out his trio. Hearing Francies perform proves that time travel exists, because you’re hearing the future. 

On the same day Francies takes the stage, Philadelphia’s Brian Marsella performs a scintillating solo performance, highlighting his eclectic and wide piano style that encompasses Herbie Nichol’s wit and an angular Monk-like approach (check out his 2018 tribute CD, Outspoken: The Music of the LegendaryHassan). Largely self-taught, Marsella has performed and recorded with John Zorn, Odean Pope, Marshall Allen and Cyro Baptista. Simply put, Marsella plays a Diaspora of musical styles, integrating them into a sumptuous, swinging whole. 

Last year, The Berklee-trained, Israeli pianist Tom Orentook first place at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition, thanks to his swinging, fleet-fingered pianism that encompasses the tradition and beyond. A core member of saxophonist Eli Degibri’s quartet, Oren comes to Newport on Friday, August 2, with his trio featuring bassist Elam Friedlander and drummer Eviatar Slivnik. They will offer a mix of standards and original compositions that foreshadow a piano giant in-the-making. 

And then, there are prodigies like 13 year-old, Brandon Goldberg, His impossible variations on the jazz piano tradition have caught the attention of a few notables, including Orrin Evans, Avery Sharpe and Paul Bollenback. He started playing piano at the age of three, studying classical music as well as Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyler, Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson. He studied at the University of Miami, and appeared at Jazz at Lincoln Center. He released his debut CD, Let’s Play,in April, with bassist Ben Wolfe, saxophonist Marcus Strickland and drummer Donald Edwards. Goldberg performs at Newport on Saturday, August 3, with a quicksilver trio consisting of bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr.  

The Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Investment Managers takes place August 2-4 at Fort Adams State Park and the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino. The festival also features Herbie Hancock, Jon Batiste, Corinne Bailey Rae, Common, Dianne Reeves, Thundercat, Buika, Dee Dee Bridgewater, The Ron Carter Trio, Ralph Peterson, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Makaya McCraven, Sons of Kemet, Ghost-Note, Kandace Springs, Tia Fuller and many more.   

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