Jazz, folk and blues to be found in Newport

By Craig Harris

Special to Reminder Publications

Dunkin' Donuts Folk Festival

Aug. 3, Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport, RI

Aug. 4 and 5, Fort Adams State Park, Newport, RI

JVC Jazz Festival

August 10, Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport, RI

Aug. 11 and Aug. 12, Fort Adams State Park, Newport, RI

For further information, call 401-847-3700

Tradition is at the heart of both jazz and folk music. The Dunkin' Donuts Folk Festival, in Newport, Rhode Island, from Aug. 3 - 5, and the JVC Jazz Festival, at the same site a week later, take very different approaches to tradition.

With performers including the Count Basie Orchestra, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band, Dave Brubeck and tributes to Charles Mingus, Thelonius Monk and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the jazz festival offers a direct link to the past.

Headlined by Linda Ronstadt and the Allman Brothers Band, the folk festival focuses primarily on more modern styles.

"It might not be the folk music that was happening in the 1960s or '70s," said Robert L. Jones, artistic director of the Dunkin Donuts Folk Festival via telephone. "It's a different view, a different look. It's so blurred anyway. You have freak folk, psych-folk you name it, it's all over the board."

Nevertheless, the roots of America's folk music will be reflected throughout the three-day event. "There's a lot of folk music in this festival," said Jones, "even though you may not realize it. (Ronstadt, who kicks the folk festival off on Friday at the Tennis Hall of Fame) started out as a folksinger. She still sings a lot of things by the McGarrigles and she's done the trio with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, which is a lot of folk music."

"The Allman Brothers Band (who perform on Saturday at Fort Adams State Park, overlooking scenic Newport Harbor)," he continued, "are in the blues category. One of their biggest albums, "Live At The Fillmore," started off with "Statesboro Blues." They'll probably include some sort of an acoustic set."

Other musical traditions will be celebrated throughout the long weekend. In addition to New York-based jam band Assembly of Dust, Saturday's concert features the traditional New Orleans sounds of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Appalachian folksongs sung by Hazel Dickens and the modern country blues of the North Mississippi All-Stars. Sunday's concert features African-American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Mexican-American-meets-Lou- Reed-and-the-Rolling-Stones music of Austin-based Alejandro Escovedo. Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, Emmylou Harris and Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys will be demonstrating the diversity of bluegrass.

Three sides of the songwriting tradition will be reflected by Cheryl Wheeler, Tom Morello and Elvis Perkins In Dearland. Wheeler balances straight-from-the-heart tunes with extremely witty between-song banter. Perkins' brooding and highly sophisticated tunes reflect the sorrow of losing his father actor Anthony Perkins, from AIDS in 1992 and his mother, photographer Berry Berenson, who died on-board one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

The former frontman of hip-hop/funk/hard rock band, Rage Against The Machine, Morello will be performing acoustically.

"One of the most interesting sets will be Hazel Dickens and Diana Jones," said Jones. "One is straight out of Appalachia and the other is a new version. You'll be able to hear the difference."

First held in 1954, the JVC Jazz Festival remains one of the foremost events of its kind. "Newport is extremely special," said Melnick. "You can't get away from the history. You're in a situation that's unique and you have to embrace it, be honored that you're involved with it and do everything that you can to respect the history and legacy and do a great job."

Beginning with a concert at the Tennis Hall of Fame, entitled "Newport '57 Revisited: The Legacy Of Ella, Billie & Basie," featuring Dianne Reeves and her band and the Count Basie Orchestra on Friday, the JVC Jazz Festival is a three-day celebration of the many flavors of jazz.

"Jazz is very alive right now," said Melnick, "and it's flourishing on many levels. We've tried to introduce new artists and also honor the older ones. The audience is very knowledgeable. We try everything that we can to book a really interesting and diverse program."

Branford Marsalis Quartet, Marcus Miller Band, Joshua Redman Trio and Chico Hamilton on Saturday, and Ron Carter and Jon Faddis' Teranga on Sunday, will be showing the strength of American jazz.

An international flavor will be felt during performances by African-influenced Belgian band, Zap Mama, Israeli clarinet/saxophone player Anat Cohen and South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, Cuban clarinet/saxophone player Paquito D'Rivera and his Panamerican Ensemble, and a multi-artist tribute, "Brazilian Nights: The Music Of Getz & Jobim."

"Jazz is a universal music," said Melnick, "and these artists are, not only connected to jazz, but they bring their own influences to the music as well."

Sunday's concert also celebrates the blues with performances by Al Green, Etta James and the Roots Band and B.B. King, a one-time Newport semi-regular returning after a decade-long absence.

"I had offers out for Al Green to do one night," explained Melnick, "and Etta James to do another. The agent, who represents both of them and B.B. King called and said, 'We have an opportunity to put Al, Etta and BB together, on one night.' They're only going to be doing a handful of dates in special places. That was phenomenal for us. It's going to be such a huge day."

A variety of collaborations, and one-of-a-kind performances add to this year's jazz festival. These include Bruce Hornsby with Jack DeJohnette and Christian McBride, currently touring to support a new CD and Gunther Schuller conducting the Mingus Orchestra.

"With three stages each day," said Melnick, "we try to do a lot of different things. I think that the uniqueness is what Newport is all about."