The 2015 Newport Jazz Festival heated up on Day 2 — the unrelenting sun was no match, though, for what was cooking onstage. A swath of today’s best jazz vocalists (including Cassandra Wilson and Jose James), as well as a selection of both the genre’s most staunch traditionalists and committed forward-thinkers, refreshed the crowd with their breezy performances.
Read on for a taste of Saturday’s (Aug. 1) highlights.
12:08 p.m.: Avant-garde legend Roscoe Mitchell, fronting drummer Jack DeJohnette‘s Made In Chicago alongside Henry Threadgill, kicked things off with sopranino sax solo that showcased his almost inhuman circular breathing technique. About five minutes of continuous sound later, he took a breath — and dove right back in for more.
At the end of his awe-insipiring solo, the 74-year-old grabbed his alto (and signature primary-colored sunglasses) to wrap up the tune over DeJohnette’s rhythmic rumbling, showing no signs of fatigue from his spectacular display.
12:27 p.m.: The Christian Sands Quartet turned an old bunker into an intimate jazz club at the Storyville Stage. The crowd waved their fans waved to the gentle twists of his improvisations — by the time he was rejoined by Etienne Charles on flugelhorn (looking very much the part in a pork pie hat), it could have easily been an outtake from 1959’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day.
12:43 p.m.: The Quad Stage tent was bursting at the seams, as sweaty audience members sought respite from the sweltering heat for a set from Cecile McLorin Salvant. Her theatrical, transfixing rendition of “The Trolley Song,” accompanied by pianist Aaron Diehl, transported to the crowd to, if not a cooler place, than certainly a more swinging one.
1:15 p.m.: Bandleader Maria Schneider presented the first of many tributes to festival impresario George Wein on his 90th birthday — a song called “Home,” featuring a tempered, sweet saxophone solo from Rich Perry.
1:25 p.m.: The man himself was talking about what, for jazz fans, is an inexhaustible topic: Miles Davis. Wein joined New York Times critic Nate Chinen for a Q&A celebrating the 60th anniversary of Miles’ first performance at the festival. Wein, reminiscing about his favorite memories of his longtime friend and colleague, recalled a time when Miles told him, “I don’t know what to play.” When Wein replied, “Miles, play the melody — of course he immediately stopped playing the melody.” The crowd laughed.
1:45 p.m.: Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon had passersby walking with a little extra swagger with his stubbornly swinging rendition of “On The Sunny Side of the Street.”
2:05 p.m.: The genre-defiant Jose James showed off his jazz chops with a goosebump-inducing performance of Billie Holiday‘s “Good Morning Heartache,” which he fluidly approached with the rhythmic sensibilities of a hip-hop head. A direct transition into Lady Day’s classic “Body & Soul” (it is Holiday’s centennial this year) turned the tribute into an unforced and evocative live remix.
2:37 p.m.: Jonathan Batiste, piano virtuoso and new bandleader for the Late Show with Steven Colbert, paid a moving (but never overly serious) tribute to the many American flags punctuating the festival grounds at Fort Adams with a jazz rendition of the National Anthem. Though few removed their caps, all were grinning (and some even dancing) as he embellished the vaunted tune with everything from florid classical runs to ragtime breakdowns — pausing briefly to give the audience a knowing smile before “And the rockets’ red glare.” What’s more American than improvisation?
3:40 p.m.: Pianist Hiromi led her trio in a series of original compositions that went from classical to rock to funk and back again. Across the stage from her drummer, shrouded behind a metal band-style wall of cymbals, her characteristic crest of hair bobbed as she combined a synth and Steinway for a sound somewhere between Booker T. and Gershwin.
4:04 p.m.: Cassandra Wilson added to the day’s Billie tributes with a full set of songs made famous by the legendary singer. “Let the festivities begin,” she told the crowd before kicking things off with a rendition of “Don’t Explain.”
4:38 p.m.: Child prodigy Joey Alexander, who recently turned 12, brought down the house with his Miles tribute. “Thelonious Monk played here,” he said of the festival. “Miles Davis played here. They played this song which I’m gonna play. Hope you enjoy!’ he concluded, prior to sitting down for a standing-ovation-inducing performance of “‘Round About Midnight.”