Newport Jazz Festival / Gregory Porter, Esperanza Spalding, Edmar Castaneda, Marshall Gilkes

An ugly rumor has been circulating that Jazz is a dying art form. Living in New York, where jazz clubs are abundant, I know this statement to be untrue. However, according to national industry reports, this sad statement may hold some weight as yearly sales continue to lag behind pop, r&b, hip-hop, and country counterparts. So, I was eager to attend Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. The first of its kind, this is where the world's greatest in the art convene to serenade nearly-8,000 fans on stages hidden inside the walls of an historic navy fort (Fort Adams State Park). In this musical wonderland, I witnessed artists whose work affirms that America's (and African-American's) great instrumental art form has life in her yet.

The beaming port sun was a perfect backdrop for the lyrics of one small-framed 28-year-old woman from Portland, Oregon, known for her signature 'fro, kicking bass lines, and birdlike voice. "Where is the throne," she sang, "for you whose tender strength can heal a thousand souls and everyone you touch just turns to gold?" (Esperanza Spalding / "Kissed & Crowned", Radio Music Society)

Edmar Castaneda's digital dexterity could be heard long before his Colombian harp could be seen. With it, he transposed flamenco guitar and percussive cajón sounds, re-inscribing the improvisation and experimentation that marks the foundations of jazz. His trombonist, Marshall Gilkes, was equally skilled and his 5-minute-plus solo was nothing short of an extended explosion of sonic energy.

But it was the man with a voice richer than dark chocolate who was the stamp on the letter home to mama that read, "yes, don't worry, all is alive and well." Gregory Porter's entire set was reminiscent of a family reunion, with nearly every audience member singing, foot tapping, and exchanging familiar smiles. Performing songs from his latest album Be Good as well as new material from his forthcoming album Liquid Spirit, Porter and his band absolutely mesmerized listeners. Yasuke Satoh seemed to be dancing a pas de deux with his alto sax, while Albert Crawford's fingers leapt the span of the piano. All the while, Porter poured on the truth that love conquers all ("No Love Dying", Liquid Spirit). At the end of the song he encouraged the audience to join him in declaring, in staccato harmony, "There will be no love that's dying here!" I couldn't help but think that there will be no jazz dying here either.

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by Rohiatou Siby

Originally Posted 8/16/2013

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