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The 2010 Jazz at Newport (Oregon) Festival

The seventh Jazz at Newport event took place on the Oregon coast October 1 to 3

Published on October 6, 2010

The 2010 Jazz at Newport (Oregon) Festival

The 2010 Jazz at Newport (Oregon) Festival

The seventh Jazz at Newport event took place on the Oregon coast October 1 to 3. The Oregon Coast Council for the Arts puts on the event with support from many different jazz sponsors.  It is quite amazing that the little coastal town of Newport (population: 10,000) has been able to make this event happen regularly. Music director for Jazz at Newport is famed jazz flutist Holly Hofman, and she has brought back some familiar faces at the event as well as some making their Newport debuts. Four top pianists were on board: Bill Cunliffe, Benny Green, Greg Goebel, and Randy Porter. Bassist John Clayton, guitarist Bruce Forman and the rising new trumpet star Jeremy Pelt were among the performers, as well as Jim Douglas’ Swing Shift big band, led by Jim Olsen. Jazz at Newport follows a sort of jazz party format rather than strict concert performances. There are eight such events during the weekend, mixing renowned jazz artists with regional performers. Most of it took place at the lovely Newport Performing Arts Center, with several events also at the Shilo Inn nearby on the cliffside.

Things got underway Friday night with the piano trios of both Greg Goebel and Benny Green bookending a gig by vocalist Roseanna Vitro, who has an unusual approach to scat.  That segued into a nightcap session led by Bruce Forman. Jeremy Pelt opened with a lovely “I Thought About You,” and later joined Holly Hofman for a gangbuster front line duo on “Cottontail.” There were three different drummers during the set.

Saturday morning, after both jazz guitar and jazz vocal clinics ($10 each), there was a new feature to Newport, a free Jazz Panel. They talked about change in radio exposure, the closing of so many record stores, and the changes in how performers get their royalties. On the subject of “you can’t get away with anything in this age of technology,” I was surprised to hear that some people now videotape performers and then edit out portions where they made serious mistakes and put the clip on YouTube!

Saturday afternoon was dubbed a Jazz Sampler. Vocalist Rosanna Vitro did tunes by Bill Evans, Sergio Mendes, Betty Carter, and surprisingly, Liberace’s theme, “I’ll Be Seeing You.”  A quintet with Houston Person, Jeremy Pelt, and Benny Green rounded the afternoon, opening with a lightly-swinging version of Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring”. Bassist Mary Ann McSweeney was on board for both sessions. She and Benny Green did a virtuoso duo of their own on Kenny Burrell’s “Bass Face.” In between, John Clayton turned in an amazing unaccompanied solo on “If I Were a Rich Man,” and Bill Cunliffe spoke on the subject of “Predictability vs. Innovation” in performance.

Cunliffe also did an improvisation that was for me the highlight of the whole festival. He asked the audience for three well-known tunes – one jazz, one classical and one pop. From the selections shouted out he took “Take the A Train,” the opening of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto, and “Layla.”  At first he sailed thru all three in succession and I’ll bet some of the audience thought, “What’s so special about that?” Then he infused the three themes in one most amazing improvisation that must be heard to be believed.

Randy Porter’s Latin Jazz Quartet held forth at 3:30 Saturday afternoon. Their “Along Came Betty” was a standout. The 7 PM session featured a trio with Bill Cunliffe, bassist Mary Ann McSweeney and drummer Alvester Garnett. Cunliffe began with a jazz treatment of one of Samuel Barber’s “Excursions.” They followed with a lyrical treatment of “My Funny Valentine.”

“Dynamic Duos” was the title of the next session. It began with a knock-out duo of John Clayton and Bruce Forman that brought the house down. Bruce kept threatening some “cowboy music” and then they did a most imaginative treatment of “I’m an Old Cowhand,” familiar from Sonny Rollin’s famed Western album. That went into a swinging version of “Avalon.”  Bill Cunliffe then accompanied Holly Hofman in a stellar program of flute/piano duos. The first one, a composition of Cunliffe’s, sounded like a classical work by a Brazilian composer. They also did a number in tribute to Cuban musician Chucho Valdez. Both Cunliffe and Hoffman come from classical backgrounds.

The 9 PM session featured a quartet with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and pianist Benny Green, plus bassist John Clayton. Pelt shown on Flugelhorn in “The End of a Love Affair” and Benny Golson’s “Stablemates” was given a colorful setting by all concerned. Green can really cut loose at the keyboard when appropriate – he’s definitely not of the Count Basie a-few-cryptic-notes here and there. John Clayton’s big smile always lights up the stage and the other performers he’s with. The rather disturbing lyrics of the ballad “You’re Mine, You” were pointed out by Jeremy, but he did a masterful and lyrical instrumental version of it – though Alvester Garnett is in the too-loud-drummer category as far as I’m concerned. Pelt closed out the final number with a delightful sort of rap/blues vocal in which he introduced the band members and wrapped up the exciting evening musically.

Sunday morning began at the Shilo Inn Convention Center with a Jazz Brunch musically served by Bruce Forman on guitar and Mary Ann McSweeney on doublebass. A middle short session featured Eugene vocalist Halie Loren and her trio.  At 11:45 the closing Big Band Bash featuring Swing Swift plus special guests Houston, Holly, Jeremy, Bill Cunliffe and Bruce Forman.  The dance floor became instantly crowded with dancers the moment the big band got underway and stayed that way during most of the session.  It’s obvious some of the regulars look forward to this part of the jazz party! A great closing to a great jazz event! For information about next year’s annual event go to www.jazzatnewport.org

John Henry




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