Highlights From The 2009 Newport Jazz Festival

Dave Brubeck is the most-featured artist of all time at the Newport Jazz Festival. i i

Dave Brubeck is the most-featured artist of all time at the Newport Jazz Festival. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images
Dave Brubeck is the most-featured artist of all time at the Newport Jazz Festival.

Dave Brubeck is the most-featured artist of all time at the Newport Jazz Festival.

Getty Images

When you present 30 acts at a jazz festival, you're bound to see spectacular moments. But at George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival 55 — the 2009 incarnation of live outdoor jazz at Newport, R.I. — those 30 groups, most of them world-class ensembles, all performed in the span of 32 hours. It made for a dizzying array of talent, densely packed one atop the other.

Luckily, as NPR Music recorded this year's festival (with WBGO and WGBH), we also listened closely to as much of it as we could. Here are our staff picks for five of the best songs — though certainly only a tiny sampling of the greatest moments — from our recordings:

Highlights From The 2009 Newport Jazz Festival

Espeanza Spalding
Wiqan Ang

Esperanza Spalding

  • Album: Esperanza Spalding Live At The Newport Jazz Festival 2009
  • Song: Wild is the Wind

Much has been made about 24-year-old Esperanza Spalding lately, and with good reason: She's a highly capable bassist, a dynamic singer and a charismatic live performer. On the Main Stage, with Fort Adams as a backdrop, Spalding and her ensemble played a sunny, bright set for a bright, sunny Saturday, with hints of R&B influences. But a clear highlight was her yet-unrecorded take on Nina Simone's "Wild Is the Wind." As a prelude, she delivered a graceful, ruminative bass exposition before voicing a single syllable. And then she built, built, built. By the end, she was full-bore belting over minor-key piano comping and clanging ride cymbals: "Wild as the WIIIIIIIIND!" We were left with no choice but to be astonished. --PJ

Hear the full set

Brian Blade live at Newport Jazz
Wiqan Ang

Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band

  • Album: Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band Live at the Newport Jazz Festival 2009
  • Song: Let Your Light Shine

At the Harbor Stage, the NPR Music production team (of engineers and producers from WGBH and WBGO) is parked right next to the musicians' trailer and VIP section. From our vantage point, we spotted the stars making it a point to see Brian Blade's band: Branford Marsalis, James Carter, Steven Bernstein and several more were locked in rapt attention. With good reason: Blade's drumming is captivating, with whiplash accents and surprising colors you never knew you were expecting. And his ensemble, buoyed by college friends Jon Cowherd (piano/harmonium) and Chris Thomas (bass), reflects that expressiveness. In "Let Your Light Shine," the hymn-like finale loosely reminiscent of "Amazing Grace," gorgeous lines and obbligato voiced by the frontline of reedmen Melvin Butler and Myron Walden, respectively, interact with open, warm rumbles from the band. I couldn't resist: I played my press pass to join the musicians' vantage point myself. --PJ

Hear the full set.

Dave Brubeck live at Newport Jazz
Wiqan Ang

Dave Brubeck Quartet

  • Album: Dave Brubeck Quartet Live at the Newport Jazz Festival 2009
  • Song: Take Five

For all the hoopla about the song's 50th anniversary, it's easy to forget that Dave Brubeck doesn't actually solo in his signature tune, "Take Five." In fact, it was written by his saxophone player at the time, Paul Desmond, and designed as a drum feature. True to form, drummer Randy Jones took a pounding turn, and saxophonist Bobby Militello constructed a driving solo with little of Desmond's gauzy restraint. (There was even an extended quotation of "Blue Rondo a la Turk," the other Brubeck quartet mega-hit.) But there was Brubeck in the background, lurking with dainty high-note comping, and even a tactful, pedaled piano interlude between the two solos. And the smiles from the enormous crowd at hearing him pluck out that instantly recognizable 5/4 riff leaves no wonder at why he's Newport's most featured artist of all time. Even at 88, Brubeck still vends a simple, graceful brand of joy. --PJ

Hear the full set.

James Carter Organ Trio live at Newport Jazz.
Wiqan Ang

James Carter Organ Trio

  • Album: James Carter Organ Trio Live at the Newport Jazz Festival 2009
  • Song: JC on the Set

While producing the festival for the Web from my desk in Washington, D.C., the James Carter Organ Trio sounded nothing like how I imagine Newport. It wasn't lawn chairs, sundresses and arena-size jazz — to my ears, this was a poorly lit club turned inside out. Originally written in 1993, "JC on the Set" has become Carter's calling card. But at the Harbor Stage, the languid, bluesy song gets stretched like curls on smoke rings. Carter pulses hard on the melody and growls through the reed. Drummer Leonard King keeps the beat slow and soulful while the audience eats up some extended techniques from Gerard Gibbs on the B-3 and keyboard. For such a quiet tune, the crowd erupts in praise. --LG

Hear the full set.

Vijay Iyer Trio live at Newport Jazz.
Wiqan Ang

Vijay Iyer Trio

  • Album: Vijay Iyer Trio Live at the Newport Jazz Festival 2009
  • Song: Mystic Brew

Like many, pianist Vijay Iyer first heard Ronnie Foster's "Mystic Brew" as a sample in A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation." For ATCQ, Foster's playful soul-jazz melody anchors a nodding beat. At Newport (and on the upcoming Historicity), Iyer takes that beat as a bed to his own version. It's a strongly percussive take on an otherwise easygoing tune, and right around the 1:50 mark, Iyer absolutely soars. Thankfully, he repeats that ecstatic glide of keys at the song's conclusion. --LG

Hear the full set.

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