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There is a definite relationship between rap and jazz. Musicians improvise with notes. Rappers improvise with words. Many of the great hip-hop recordings featured samples from some of the greatest jazz albums. So it should be no surprise that there are rappers who are not only comfortable in post-bop sonic settings, but can also deliver some swinging verses themselves. The result of this fusion of styles, motifs, and genres is a corps of instrumentalists who are influenced by rappers, who in turn, are influenced by musicians.
Rapper, actor, pitchman and philanthropist Common (née Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn) is the first rapper to win a Grammy (“Love of my Life”), Emmy (“Letter to the Free”), and an Oscar (“Glory”). He has worked with everybody from The Roots and Kanye West to Erykah Badu, so he knows how to hold an audience. He also has some receipts in jazz. The co-producer of his greatest CD, Like Water for Chocolate, was J Dilla, a remixer who loved Herbie Hancock. Common recorded with the late Roy Hargrove’s 90s, hip-hop/R&B/soul group, The RH Factor, and closed an emotional Jazz at Lincoln Center memorial tribute to the trumpeter, who died last year. His 2018 CD, August Greene, with keyboardist Robert Glasper and drummer Karriem Riggins, is a crossover hit. So when Common comes to the Newport stage on Sunday, August 4, he’ll be spitting verses in the same, Chi-Town, UpSouth manner that mirrors the improvisational imprint of Johnny Griffin, and Bunky Green, and no doubt, his backing musicians will create moods and grooves for the head and the heart. Band members are Burniss Travis, Andre “DJ DUMMY” Smith, Mark Colenberg, Junius Bervine and Muhsinah Karim Abdul.
Another Windy City great (by way of France and Massachusetts), drummer/producer Makaya McCraven is one of the best “beat scientists” in the business. His father, drummer Stephen McCraven, played with jazz greats Sam Rivers and Archie Shepp. His mother is the Hungarian vocalist Agnes Zsigmondi. McCraven grew up in a multi-cultural world near the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he studied with jazz masters Marion Brown and Yusef Lateef. McCraven was also listening to A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Busta Rhymes and Notorious B.I.G. He moved to Chicago in 2007 and honed his hip-hop/jazz craft, as evidenced by his sideman gigs with guitarist Bobby Brown, trumpeters Marquis Hill and Corey Wilkes, and his recordings as a leader, including his 2018 opus, Universal Beings– a sonic stew that leaves the Astral Traveling, Afro-Harping and Afrobeat tastes of Lonnie Liston Smith, Dorothy Ashby and Fela in your mouth in cinematic fashion, which is even more the case since he moved to L.A. And, when he takes to the Newport stage – along with Matt Gold, Junius Paul, Greg Spero and Irvin Piece – on Saturday, August 3, the audience will probably be hollering “give the drummer some.”
In Los Angeles, there’s a cadre of musicians who are also melting the musical barriers that separate jazz and hip-hop. Take for example Stephen Lee Bruner, AKA Thundercat. His supersonic bass lines combine Stanley Clarke’s athletics and Jaco Pastorius’ power. He’s laid down some vicious grooves for Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, SZA and Herbie Hancock. And, he’s recorded four recordings as a leader, with his trademarked falsetto vocals, evocative lyrics and spacey harmonies, especially from his eclectic 2017 CD, Drunk, featuring the Quiet Storm ballad, “Show Me the Way,” with Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. At Newport on Friday, August 2, Thundercat’s quirky, and charismatic stage presence will be the perfect complement to his beyond-category music. Joining him will be Dennis Hamm, keyboard, and Justin Brown, drums.
A frequent collaborator with Thundercat, alto saxophonist/keyboardist/producer Terrace Martin, and currently on tour with Herbie Hancock, tenor/soprano saxophonist Kamasi Washington is a leading figure in an assemblage of L.A. jazz artists called The West Coast Get Down. In fact, he’s been getting down ever since he burst on the scene with Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, and on his astonishing 2015 multi-CD appropriately entitled, The Epic, with his blazing, Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Azar Lawrence sax sound, which is also influenced by his father, Rickey Washington. His 2018 CD, Heaven and Earth, continues in the same sonic zip code as its predecessor, with the leader’s brisk-tempoed version of Freddie Hubbard’s Blue Note era classic “Hub Tones”, and the kinetic “Street Fighter Mas,” with it’s own urban martial arts video. Like his musical predecessor, Charles Lloyd, who played at rock gigs like The Fillmore in the sixties, Washington, who also worked with George Duke, Gerald Wilson, Harvey Mason and Stanley Clarke, is one of the rare jazz artists who has cracked the musical glass-ceiling at pop-rock festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. Catch Washington’s appearance at Newport on Saturday, August 3, and listen to what a Saxophone Colossus has to say. His band features Rickey Washington, Ryan Porter, Brandon Coleman, Ronald Bruner, Jr., Tony Austin, Miles Mosley and Patrice Quinn.
Home to Tank and the Bangas is New Orleans, where the band started making waves in 2011. Six years later, they beat out more than 6,600 entrants to win NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest. Since then, Lead Poet Tarriona “Tank” Ball has been leading the Bangas around the world winning fans with her sassy, animated performances and lyrics that not only entertain, but empower. Tank fronts the band, but all of the musicians come together to form a unit that has a sound that can’t be labeled, shouldn’t be categorized, but definitely mesmerizes. With their dynamic twists and turns of funk, soul, hip-hop, gospel, spoken word, rock and jazz, Tank and the Bangas will feel right at home at Newport Jazz. Ball says their latest album, Green Balloon, is “every version of myself that I’ve met so far,” while NPR says there’s no record or band quite like it and Time magazine marvels how Tank turns “simple lyrics into full stories just with a twist of the syllables.” The one constant thing is that Tank and the Bangas’ vibe is all the way live, all the time. Joining Tank in Newport on Sunday, August 4, will be Joshua Johnson, Norman Spence, Merell Burkett, Albert Allenback, Jonathan Johnson, Daniel Abel, and Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph.
Additional artists for the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Investment Managers, which takes place August 2-4 at Fort Adams State Park and the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino, include Herbie Hancock, Jon Batiste, Corinne Bailey Rae, Dianne Reeves, The Bad Plus, Terence Blanchard featuring The E-Collective, Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Memphis Soulphony, Buika, The Ron Carter Trio, PJ Morton, Sons of Kemet, Cécile McLorin Salvant and many more.
For tickets and more information on the Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Investment Managers, log on to www.newportjazz.org.