Jazz history is still being written at this year’s Newport Jazz Festival
As the word itself suggests, the story is, at its core, a story – no doubt written by a select group of people. But you can also think of it as a culmination of present moments; an idea that is constantly written down and Dwritten by virtue of our decisions to engage in an activity that will most likely be recorded and remembered decades later.
Saturday will mark Terri Lyne Carrington’s third appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival – she has already appeared twice with Esperanza Spalding. But in a change, this is his first appearance as a conductor. For her, this chance to operate as a leader of her own ensemble works on two levels: it’s revolutionary for her personal story, as she has never done this before. But in the larger picture, she says, “it’s important that women instrumentalists are leaders.”
The first Newport Jazz Festival was held in 1954, well over half a century ago, and over the years the event has borne its fair share of weight, in terms of historical weight. And then – spoiler – the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic occurred, putting the festival on the back burner for the first time in its 67-year history. The historical continuity has been disrupted, and for some musicians, or at least for Carrington, it’s more than a big deal.
“The story is something important in general, it’s in the music itself,” reflected Carrington a few days before the start of the 2021 edition. But it occupies a physical place. “[There’s] the real geography of the place and the history that takes place there. And I think, you know, ‘what are we without our history?’ “
Questions of our past occupy much of Carrington’s work. The drummer / producer / songwriter has recorded and toured with musicians including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Spalding; but she is also a professor at Berklee College of Music – and founder and director of its Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice. Public perception of the jazz world and the industry itself is bathed in masculinity to an absurd (but unfortunately unsurprising) degree.
Step into Carrington’s mission: to advocate for gender justice through the prism of Black America’s Music.
Carrington’s social justice mission can also be lived through his group Social Science, whose roster includes pianist Aaron Parks, guitarist Matthew Stevens, saxophonist / bassist Morgan Guerin, vocalist Debo Ray and artist / turntable Kassa. Overall. Their 2019 album Waiting Game addresses themes such as liberation, state violence and retaliation, and homophobia. Dark energy permeates the album, and that twilight vibe is heightened by a host of guests that include Rapsody, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Nicholas Payton; not to mention the use of archival voices starring Assata Shakur and Angela Davis.
The social sciences will be the set of Carrington this weekend, and despite a pandemic-induced hiatus, it can be confidently bet that they will being ready. The crew managed to keep in touch creatively; with help from Zoom Hangouts, Carrington explained that they were able to “write a song for a symposium I was hosting, so we were able to get together remotely and write a piece of music, which was great.” Other collaborations between the members in New York and Boston resulted in a new recording for the LetterOne Rising Star Award and a music video for the Grammy premiere (Waiting Game was nominated for Best Instrumental Album by jazz).
Changing our history is just as important to Carrington as it is to commit to it. She sounded upbeat as she described the direction Christian McBride, recently appointed artistic director of the Newport Festival, appears to be taking with the festival; that the story that is jazz will continue to be written by an eclectic avant-garde, perpetuated for the pleasure of all and the exclusion of no one.
On the way to the Jazz Fest? Here are three acts to discover …
Using the word “drummer” here seems lazy at worst and inadequate at best. Instead, I’ll be looking at the phrase “beat scientist,” which is how Makaya McCraven, born in Paris and raised in western Massachusetts, would describe himself. The year of the lockdown saw two releases from the percussionist: February’s We’re New Again – a reimagining of GIl Scott-Heron’s latest studio album I’m New Here – and Universal Beings E&F Sides, an album largely containing unpublished extracts from the sessions. for the Universal Beings of 2018. I have yet to receive the clairvoyance talent, but I would rave about the possibility that any number of tracks from these two albums – be it the slow-burning kinetics of ‘E&F or the chaos about New Again – would be translated to be explored in a context of live improvisation.
Christian Scott in Tunde Adjuah
At the end of August 2020, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, a native of New Orleans and a graduate of Berklee, released Axiom. The album was recorded live at the Blue Note in New York’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, and was the last such gig the trumpeter performed before the lockdown began. This ensemble’s collection of punchy songs is steeped in the musical dialect of goodness that is Blackness, and their arrival last summer was a welcome reminder of what live music could sound like. Hopefully the audience can hear Scott’s ensemble pick up where it left off, dragging listeners into a sonic fellowship.
The vibraphone is an incredible instrument, and any opinion to the contrary is frankly wrong. I will die on this hill. But if you need to convince, then there might not be a chance more exciting than this fusion of vibraphonic spirits with Warren Wolf, Sasha Berliner and Joel Ross. When you consider their individual sounds and recent accomplishments with their respective ensembles, you are hardly able to imagine what those voices would look like in concert: the suspended and distant sounds of Berliner meeting the introspective grooves of Ross meeting the smoky grown-up. Wolf folk vibes. A real summit indeed.