August 6, 2018
Today there are so many women at this festival that it's impossible to catch them all. As much as we'd love to see Jazzmeia Horn, our loyalty is to our friend Nicole Mitchell. We are excited to witness her debut at Newport and arrive early enough to catch her soundcheck. We spot her husband, Calvin Gantt, on his way in and he joins us in the third row. This is the closest we've been to a Newport stage so far.
Once the previous group clears the stage and the crew starts the setup for Dusty Wings, the band comes in. We shout greetings to Nicole and Fay, who acknowledge us, then engage in the final steps of show prep – mic placements, monitor adjustments and the prayer circle. Once the group is introduced, the music takes flight – lush harmonies, head bopping rhythms, wordless vocal explorations – and entrances us. Taylor Ho Bynum’s cornet and fluegelhorn playing combines beautifully with Nicole’s flutes and Fay Victor’s voice. Rashaan Carter? And Shirazette Tinnin provide the rhythmic foundation for Nicole’s original compositions, including “Intuition,” “He Shimmered,” a tribute to AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams, “Dusty Wings Tinged With Gold,”and a parting number reminding us that our lives are “ours to design.”
We join in the well deserved standing ovation. Then I follow Calvin backstage to congratulate the musicians and take a few pics. Nicole expressed her delight and gratitude that Zahra and I were in the audience for what she would later call a “milestone.”
We then scurried off to catch more performances – a hard choice. Finding room again in front of the Fort Adams big screen, we lowered ourselves into our rental chairs, awkward and painful for me. A neighbor offered her higher chair, but I declined. “I’m down now” was my embarrassed response. And down I stayed through sets by Artemis, a women’s super group, and Charles Lloyd. I was pleased that I’d already featured most of the women in my social media posts and now actually had a chance to experience them in performance. This powerhouse band included vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, pianist Renee Rosnes, clarinetist Anat Cohen, saxophonist Melissa Aldana, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Noriko Ueda on bass, and Allison Miller on drums.
I reflected on the phenomena of musical taste. Nicole’s music touched my soul, whereas the couple next to us obviously couldn’t relate to her, leaving her set early. The music that I love most makes me move and literally fills me up, a physical sensation that starts in my chest and moves to the top of my head. Once I feel that, I’m pretty much good to go.
The beauty of Newport, and of Christian Mc Bride’s selection of musicians, was that there was literally something for everyone. You could plant yourself at one of the four stages and spend the entire day there. Or you could move around, sampling and searching for your groove.
We stayed at the Fort Adams stage to hear saxophonist Charles Lloyd, a longtime favorite of mine. The festival was celebrating his 80th birthday and featured him in performances all three days. George Wein, the festival’s creator, even came on stage to introduce this honored guest. After a few beautiful numbers, Lloyd was joined by Lucinda Williams, with whom he’d done a recent recording. The audience gave these veterans lots of love and, after their set, waited in a long line for their autographs.
After being helped to my feet from that awful rental chair, I walked with Zahra in search of food and more music. We ran into Dusty Wings folk, networking and reflecting on Nicole’s Newport debut. We delighted in witnessing the interaction between Nicole and George Wein, who warmly affirmed her presence at his big party. We also caught a bit of Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, an all women’s group from Cuba.
Then we went back to “the Fort” to see Gregory Porter, who we listen to a lot at home and saw once at Chicago’s Millennium Park. His beautiful voice and loving energy are worth experiencing time and again. We enjoyed singing along to our favorites, including his finale “There will be no love dying here.” It was another emotionally full moment and a fitting end to my Newport adventure.