Tribute to George Wein

Sunday, July 31 concluded three days of fun in the sun at the historic Newport Jazz Festival at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, RI. Post pandemic, the full return of the festival was well attended, selling out on Saturday with near sell-outs Friday and Sunday.

Whether intended or not, the theme of this year’s festival was “change,” reflecting a generational shift in jazz music. The “kids” are taking over … and “the kids are alright.” No worries traditionalists, the genre is safe – this kind of thing has happened before and jazz has survived just fine.

A year ago, we interviewed Artistic Director Christian McBride who shared his thoughts on the direction of the iconic festival. “Make it fun,” he said when asked about his goals for the festival. Well, he accomplished that and more this year, bringing diverse acts to Newport with sounds ranging from Hip-Hop to traditional jazz, with funk, R&B, world, and even a little rock and roll in the mix (see Celisse).

The formula worked … there were far more younger faces in the crowd than in previous years, not to mention younger artists on stage.

Not that the old guard didn’t bring some heat – Sunday’s highlights came from all over the jazz world. 85-year-old bassist Ron Carter, who’s played on over 2100 recordings, was exquisite, setting the tone for the day. Angelique Kidjo and her band brought as much energy as anyone, covering the Talking Head’s “Remain in Light” album.

The bands that got folks dancing, The Soul Rebels, Sampa The Great, PJ Morton and hip-hop legends Digable Planets among them, were examples of those high-energy acts McBride was talking about. No doubt, the players in these bands are steeped in jazz, but the music is upbeat, affirming, and, as mentioned, danceable.

Meanwhile, this was the first Newport Jazz Festival since its inception in 1954 without longtime producer George Wein. (Wein passed away in September 2021.) George’s presence was everywhere, including at the top of “The Late Greats” signpost, on his “Wein Machine” golf cart, and through frequent mentions from artists on stage. The final set of the festival featured an all-star cast of jazz greats paying tribute to Wein. They included Trombone Shorty, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Hiromi, Randy Becker and Christian McBride among others.

To sum up, Newport has seen the future of jazz and the future looks bright. Check out Rick Farrell’s photos from Day 3 of the Newport Jazz Festival below.