In recent years, the Newport Jazz Festival has been investing a lot in musicians whose careers are just beginning to pick up momentum — musicians often in their 20s and 30s who come with original fusions and vantage points. But the festival organizers also know that they present a music whose creators get better and wiser with age. Surely enough, this year's lineup recognizes the contributions of several veteran bandleaders who are as creative as ever.
Here are five video clips which capture a bit of what you'll hear and see this weekend, when NPR Music presents 16 hours of live festival coverage starting at 11 a.m. ET on Saturday. We won't be able to feature all of these artists in our broadcast, and this list certainly doesn't mention all the distinguished heads of state in Newport this weekend. But hopefully it'll whet your appetite for what's coming up.
Newport Jazz Festival 2012 Preview: The Veterans
The drummer started his big year (he'll turn 70 the week following the festival) by accepting the NEA Jazz Master honor and releasing a new album, Sound Travels. The new disc is his ticket to a Newport gig billed as the "Jack DeJohnette All-Stars," featuring a duet interlude with pianist Jason Moran. But even before this momentous year, he's also been maintaining a band of his own. That working quintet features keyboard wizardry (George Colligan), microtonal guitar (David Fiuczynski), the unusual acoustic bass guitar (Jerome Harris) and an alto saxophonist who is leading his Newport performance (Rudresh Mahanthappa). Here's a short promotional video with some performance footage of the Jack DeJohnette Group; it's nice to see someone who played Newport in 1969 with Miles Davis still pushing the envelope.
In 2011, the vocalist Dianne Reeves was named one of NPR's 50 Great Voices: "When jazz fans of the future look back, I believe Dianne Reeves will stand out as one of the best voices of our generation," wrote NPR's Felix Contreras. It's not hard to see why, her delivery driven by souplesse and athleticism. These days, she tours with some of the best in the business, often assembled by pianist/musical director Peter Martin and highlighted by the soft color of Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo. This excerpt of "The Windmills of Your Mind" builds and builds, and even after a special guest crashes the stage, continues to morph and churn.
He leads a big band in a tuxedo twice a week in New York; he plays the bass saxophone, tuba and an aluminum upright bass; he has tens of thousands of sheet music scores filed away in his basement. Early, pre-war jazz is his passion, and he's very good at it: When filmmakers need a historically-accurate old-timey band for a soundtrack (or even an on-screen scene), they call up him and his Nighthawks, as you may have recently seen on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City. That might sound a bit fusty to some, but to hear the Nighthawks take on, for example, a 1920s Fletcher Henderson chart in brilliant high fidelity is a bit of a revelation — and a danceable one at that.
Along with Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny is one of two guitarists at Newport this year from a generation which greatly expanded the possibilities of the instrument in jazz contexts. Whether the world-beat fusion of the Pat Metheny Group, or generating a room-size mechanical orchestras, or playing solo with an acoustic guitar, Metheny has always painted with a huge palette. But for his latest trick, he's created his most "jazz" album in a while, this summer's Unity Band release. Featuring regular drummer regular drummer Antonio Sanchez, gunslinging saxophonist Chris Potter and rising star bassist Ben Williams, it co-opts Metheny's many guises under the umbrella of swing.
Lewis Nash isn't one of the bombastic, prog-rock-esque drummers worshipped by student musicians. But those who know his playing know that he can inject magic into any swing pattern, and that he knows all the swing patterns. That's given him credits on hundreds of recordings, and places in bands led by Betty Carter, Branford Marsalis and Tommy Flanagan. His discography as a bandleader is tiny, so it's nice to see Nash getting a booking at a prestigious jazz festival. This live quintet recording — which can be purchased through the Cellar Live label in Vancouver — is close to the top-flight New York group you'll hear at Newport, complete with saxophonist Jimmy Greene and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.