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5 To Watch: Newport Jazz Festival Debuts

By Patrick Jarenwattananon | NPR
Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Major jazz gatherings such as the Newport Jazz Festival — which dates back to 1954 — have always relied on big names to attract visitors. The 2013 edition is no different, with headliners such as Wayne Shorter (with Herbie Hancock), Marcus Miller, Chick Corea, Eddie Palmieri and Esperanza Spalding.

But in recent years, Newport Jazz has held surprises throughout its entire lineup, thanks to programming designed to bring more names into the fold. Some may be career sidemen getting a little spotlight for their own bands; some may be critically acclaimed ensembles finally getting a shot at the granddaddy of jazz festivals; some might be experimentalists whose appeal transcends the arcane.

Whatever the case, here are some — not even all! — of the bandleaders making debut appearances at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival. For more coverage from Newport, join us this weekend, August 3-4, as we webcast live concerts from seaside Rhode Island: npr.org/newportjazz.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Dee Alexander


Chicago jazz fans have long enjoyed a singer whose stylistic range spans the African-American music diaspora, from the mainstream to the funky and far-out. Wider recognition often eludes Dee Alexander outside the Upper Midwest, but her Newport debut might go a ways in correcting that. She'll bring her commanding and flexible voice — heard here demonstrating musical calisthenics in her original tune "Butterfly" — to a set called "Songs That My Mother Loved."

Ray Anderson


Another Chicago native (though now based in the New York area), trombonist Ray Anderson has also enjoyed a reputation as a versatile musician. His Pocket Brass Band, a quartet, stands as testament: The tuba-bass hookup blares classic New Orleans, but the crafty compositions and freewheeling trumpet-trombone dialogue signal something antic and contemporary. Here, they play a movement from Anderson's Sweet Chicago Suite; for their Newport show, Anderson has been commissioned to write new music.

Jonathan Batiste

OK, so Jonathan Batiste isn't technically making his Newport debut: Last year, he took a turn on the piano at the opening-night concert between headliners. But this year, he's been scheduled in the weekend lineup with his Stay Human Band, a group of musicians he met at Juilliard, though their music is infected with the spirit of his native New Orleans. They play plenty of stages and clubs, and are also known to launch jam sessions in the subways and streets of New York. Here, they take a stroll with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon.

David Gilmore


Not to be confused with David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, but still a guitar hero in his own right, David Gilmore is one of the busiest sidemen in the business. He's served with leaders like Wayne Shorter, David Sanborn and Joss Stone; his roots are jazz, though his interests are sundry. As a bandleader and composer, he's known for fusion forays into mathy metrics, as in his Numerology suite, inspired by Pythagoras. It works due in part to heavyweights like Miguel Zenón (alto sax), Christian McBride (bass) and Claudia Acuña (voice) — folks who have led their own bands at Newport.

Amir ElSaffar


The Iraqi-American musician Amir ElSaffar started out as a trumpet hotshot; around the turn of the century, he began to study Iraqi and other Middle Eastern musics in earnest. His Two Rivers band, which will appear at the festival, splits the difference, incorporating a microtonal language, traditional stringed instruments and maqam modes to approach modern jazz. As with Ray Anderson, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has enabled him to write new music for Newport, which he says will be based on the music of his current home base: Egypt.

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