In 2007, at age 81, Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein sold his production company — which proceeded to go out of business. So he started over, making a special effort to see more of the New York City jazz scene, and found that a lot had changed since the last time he was going to so many shows. Naturally, Wein, now 86, brought some of it back with him. And in jazz, "some" has a way of leading to "more," such that recent Newport Jazz Festivals have been noticeably sparked by the infusion of younger bandleaders and their visions for the jazz tradition.
World-renowned headliners are still there, of course; we'll explore five of the veterans and stars appearing at Newport 2012 next week. But for now, here are five bands, all of them making their first appearances at the "grandfather of jazz festivals," who represent new generations of jazz expression. You'll get to see some of them during NPR Music's live video webcast of the Newport Jazz Festival on the weekend of Aug. 4-5, 2012.
Newport Jazz Festival 2012 Preview: The Up-And-Comers
In 2002, a few years after he arrived in New York from his native Cuba, Dafnis Prieto commented to The New York Times, "Latin music is really developing something from the inside. It's an institutional change." Whatever it is, he was at its center from day one, joining every kind of jazz context imaginable as a jaw-dropping drummer, and eventually developing his own 21st-century claves. (His newest project, the Proverb Trio, combines his drumming with a keyboard whiz and a rapper/singer.) The Dafnis Prieto Sextet is the group featured at Newport; fellow Cubans represent a majority of the band, but it's hard to tell where the Afro-Caribbean elements end and something else entirely takes over.
Gil Evans, the late composer/arranger whose place in jazz history was secured by his extensive collaboration with Miles Davis, is not a new name. But unless you're really plugged into the big-band community, Ryan Truesdell might be. Being a composer/arranger himself — and a record producer, and copyist for Maria Schneider among others — he's naturally a big Gil Evans fan. So when Truesdell discovered several never-recorded or incomplete Evans charts, he saw fit to finish them and have them recorded. The album Centennial is the fruit of that labor; it's as majestic and richly textured as you would expect, and to see it executed live at Newport with a huge ensemble ought to be most satisfying.
The alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón has been mentioned on this blog plenty of times before — he was reponsible for the author's favorite album of 2011, and is now a Newport veteran. But Laurent Coq, the French pianist who shares the billing on this record, has been more scarce. Now, the two have bonded over the Julio Cortazar novel Rayuela (Hopscotch in English) and its 155 chapters, collaborating to write an album based on the book. Rayuela the recording features an unusual quartet with piano, sax, a cello player who doubles on trombone (Dana Leong) and a drummer who also plays tabla (Dan Weiss, heard on the previous track too). Fun fact: The novel takes place in both Buenos Aires and Paris, so this project felt especially appropriate for the Latin-French duo to take on.
Between growing up in North Carolina and settling in New York, the tenor saxophonist John Ellis spent a number of formative years in New Orleans. So indebted is he to the city's musical culture that most of his Double-Wide band still lives there. You can hear it too, especially in the sousaphone bass supplied by Matt Perrine, or the carnivalesque organ cries from Brian Coogan (Gary Versace substitutes at Newport), or the lopsided parades of drummer Jason Marsalis. But there's also a ladle of the nouveau and moderne in Ellis' writing, and a pungent sweetness to his tone. With guest trombonist Alan Ferber, Double-Wide will be the first band to appear on the main stage.
Much like his comrade-in-rhythm Dafnis Prieto, conguero Pedrito Martinez arrived in New York from Cuba around the turn of the century. He also has full command of the Afro-Cuban styles, and also quickly became indispensable to many a bandleader. And recently he's been leading a hybrid band of his own too, a multi-layered Caribbean funk outfit where microphones are turned on his congas and in front of his face. The Pedrito Martinez Group has a standing gig at a Cuban restaurant blocks south of Central Park, where this performance of "Que Palo" was filmed; no studio album is available yet, though that seems certain to change sometime after Newport.