The 2023 Newport Jazz Festival: an index of the new mainstream
The Newport Jazz Festival has always been a barometer — not just one of the world’s most prestigious stages for jazz but also a window onto its current state of affairs. In that sense, what you see in any Newport Jazz lineup is a consolidation of artists and trends that make up jazz’s eclectic mainstream — “from J to Z,” per festival founder George Wein, who used that catchphrase as early as its first edition in 1954.
Bassist Christian McBride, his successor as artistic director, upholds that sensibility as a matter of course — with a key proviso for whatever’s F-U-N-K-Y. His programming, in consultation with Newport Festivals Foundation executive director Jay Sweet, has placed modern masters alongside head-turning new arrivals, without sweating the genre details.
The 2023 Newport Jazz Festival lineup, announced today, epitomizes this approach with top-line headliners like Herbie Hancock, Jon Batiste and Kamasi Washington — artists known for their charismatic forays into popular culture. Longtime festival mainstays Charles Lloyd and Diana Krall will make their return; so will newer stalwarts like Samara Joy, Somi, Immanuel Wilkins, Thundercat, and DOMi & JD Beck.
A few other recent breakout successes — like alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, keyboardist Julius Rodriguez and bassist Endea Owens — are set to make their Newport debuts as leaders. And veterans as varied as alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, percussionist Pedrito Martinez, and pianists Bill Charlap and Orrin Evans will appear with their respective bands.
For his part, McBride will help propel a marquee set by the reunited mid-1990s Joshua Redman Quartet, now billed as Redman Mehldau McBride Blade. He’ll also preside over what he calls a Jam Jawn, with an array of as-yet-unnamed collaborators.
Groove will likely be the prime directive in that Jawn, just as it is for acts like Soulive, Cimafunk, Alfa Mist, Scary Goldings with John Scofield, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead with Kamasi Washington, and Butcher Brown — whose members are also part of SuperBlue, with Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter.
The avant-garde has had a fitful but fruitful presence at Newport Jazz over the years, with milestone appearances by the likes of Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp. This year, setting aside the outré provocations of Big Freedia, that contingent is covered by artists with crossover appeal: notably tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, who now records for ANTI-; and the supertrio of Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily, whose deeply reflective Love in Exile releases this Friday on Verve. But take note: according to the festival announcement, “many more artists” are yet to be announced.
For now, the full 2023 Newport Jazz Festival lineup is as follows. For more information, see newportjazzfestivals.org.
Joe Russo's Almost Dead with Kamasi Washington
DJ Pee .Wee (Anderson .Paak)
DOMi & JD Beck
Immanuel Wilkins Quartet
Endea Owens & The Cookout
Lakecia Benjamin and Phoenix
Big Gigantic Does Jazz
Christian McBride's Jam Jawn
Charles Lloyd New Quartet
Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, Shahzad Ismaily
Superblue: Kurt Elling & Charlie Hunter with Nate Smith & Huntertones Horns
Orrin Evans Quintet
The War and Treaty
James Brandon Lewis
Redman, Mehldau, McBride, Blade: A Moodswing Reunion
Scary Goldings featuring John Scofield
Bill Charlap Trio
Charles McPherson Quintet