From Ella Fitzgerald’s rapid fire scats, Sarah Vaughan’s divine voice, Billie Holiday’s fine and mellow artistry and Betty Carter’s bebop, the Newport Jazz Festival has been Ground Zero for jazz vocalists for six decades. And, this year’s 65th edition is no exception.
The multi-Grammy winning, NEA Jazz Master Dee Dee Bridgewater has been captivating audiences for five decades. She made records with her then husband, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, Norman Connors and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. She has sung the music of Michael Franks and paid tribute to Horace Silver and Billie Holiday. And if that is not enough, she won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress as “Glinda” in the musical, The Wiz; was awarded France's Commandeur dans l’Ordes des Artes et des Lettres; and was the Host of NPR’S Jazz Set radio show. An ebullient and effusive performer, Bridgewater will light up the Newport stage on Saturday, August 3, when she makes her Fort Adams debut to perform with The Memphis Soulphony. The ensemble from her birthplace, recorded with her on the 2017 CD, Memphis … Yes I’m Ready, which features covers of blues and R&B classics by B.B. King, Al Green, Otis Redding and many others. She proves that you can come home again…swinging.
The Colorado-born, Dianne Reeves (a cousin of jazz keyboard legend George Duke) is at home swinging in any idiom. Since she debuted on the Latin jazz-fusion band Caldera’s 1977 LP, Sky Islands, Reeves’ musical modus operandi has been to infuse her cool and controlled contralto comfortably on every song she sings. From her riveting rendition of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro-Blue,” her loving album tribute to Sarah Vaughan, The Calling, and her Quiet Storm classic original composition, “Better Days,” AKA “The Grandma Song,” Reeves’ 15-plus recordings as a leader are a template on how the vocal jazz influence can soar in all facets of modern music. She comes to Newport on Saturday, August 3, with her quicksilver quartet – pianist Peter Martin, guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Terreon Gully. Reeves and company will stamp your musical passport for a wonderful trip of word and sound.
Add the beyond-category African Flamenco singer Buika, who will be performing on Saturday, August 3, to the mix and it is evident that the Newport tradition of featuring great vocalists carries on. Her husky voice marries The Motherland (Equatorial Guinea) with the Moorish sound of Southern Spain, Afrobeat, jazz, reggae and pop. She has performed with Seal, Nelly Furtado, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Meshell Ndegeocello, Chucho ValdésJason Mraz, Charles Aznavour, Javier Limón and Carlos Santana, to names a few. Simply put, you will hear one of the greatest voices of the world at historic Fort Adams overlooking the beautiful Narragansett Bay.
The Leeds, England vocalist Corrine Bailey Rae’s 2006 hits “Put Your Records On,” and “Like a Star,” catapulted her onto the world stage, buoyed by her laid-back, youthful vocals. She proved that she had some solid chops, as evidenced by her work on Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-winning 2007 Joni Mitchell tribute, River: The Joni Letters. Her next CDs, The Sea, Is This Love and The Heart Speaks in Whispers(the last two earned her Grammy awards in 2016 and 2018), also received rave reviews. Rae has collaborated with a number of stars, including Questlove, Mary J. Blige and Stevie Wonder. She comes to Newport on Friday, August 2, with her guitar-drums-keyboard trio – John McCallum, Myke Wilson and Steve Brown – to perform a set that will be as bouncy and breezy as the Rhode Island air. Festival founder George Wein has tried to book Rae since her first CD, but her scheduled never permitted until this year, so you know what stage The Wein Machine will be parked come Friday afternoon.
If you missed the Grammy-winning Cecile McLorin-Salvant’s last appearance at the Festival, you’ll see why her return on Sunday, August 4, backed by pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Kyle Poole, feels like a victory lap, thanks to her impressive win at DownBeat magazine’s 67th International Critic’s Poll as Jazz Artist of the Year and Jazz Female Vocalist of the Year. Her last two releases, The Ogresse, her chamber orchestra-backed date, and The Window, her 17-track duo recording with New Orleans pianist Sullivan Fortner, feature a wide range of blues songs, chansons, standards and originals. From Leonard Berstein’s “Somewhere” to Marie-Louise Damien’s 1920’s French song, “J'ai Le Cafard,” her work showcases the extremely broad artistry of this Miami native of Franco-Haitian descent, who’s been blowing our ears, hearts and minds ever since she won the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition.
Newport is also a great place to see the next generation of vocalists. The talented, Tennessee-born singer-pianist-songwriter Kandace Springs burst on the scene with her eponymously titled 2014 EP, followed by her 2016 major label debut CD, SoulEyes, and Indigo released two years later. Blessed with the kind of hushed vocal tones that made Roberta Flack and Jeanne Lee famous, and with a pleasing pianism Shirley Horn would have loved, Springs breathes new life into the music of Mal Waldron, The Stylistics, and Jhené Aiko. When she appears at Newport for the first time on Friday, August 2 – with a supportive combo that includes the young flutist Elena Pinderhughes, bassist Chris Gaskell and drummer Conor Park – you will wait with baited breath for this artist’s next release.
Cleveland-born Laurin Talese made a name for herself, winning the 2018 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, held annually at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. When she steps on the Newport Stage for the first time on Saturday August 3, with her trio – pianist Shedrick Mitchell, bassist Jonathan Michel and drummer Anwar Marshall – you’ll hear why she took first place. She possesses a voice that rings with an ancestral ache that conjures up the best tones and timbres of jazz, gospel and R&B, along with a refreshing talent for telling compelling musical stories. She has worked with Robert Glasper, Patti LaBelle and Gregory Porter. In 2016, she released her debut CD, Gorgeous Chaos, with Christian McBride, Christian Sands and Ulysses Owens, Jr. Talese is the perfect example of an artist who can express herself regardless of category.
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, Common, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, The Bad Plus, Terence Blanchard featuring The E-Collective, The Ron Carter Trio, Tank and the Bangas, PJ Morton, Sons of Kemet, Ralph Peterson and the Messenger Legacy, and many more.
For tickets and more information on the Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Investment Managers, log on to www.newportjazz.org.