Newport Jazz -- an important gathering of the guard
New York and Saratoga, N.Y.
Apart from its vestigial 4/4 time frame, already disappearing from much new music, contemporary jazz has little in common with its roots and goes deeper into classically oriented modes and idioms, as the 1980 Newport Jazz Festival abundantly demonstrated.
Non-Western musical, national, religious, and cultural influences, stemming mainly from the post-bop era of the 1960s, plus the far older and stronger Latin influence, continue to dilute the original jazz, that African and European musical mix that spread from New Orleans and Kansas City to Chicago, New York, and across the country and the world.
Out of the recent festival's 30-some major events in New York City, Long Island, and New Jersey, only 8 could be classified as traditional or mainstream jazz. They included "Swinging Taps," with Benny Carter and tap- dance greats, and the dance at Roseland Ballroom, with Lionel Hampton and Panama Francis.
Thirteen contemporary and new music events spotlighted such artists as Carla Bley, Archie Shepp, Beaver Harris/Don Pullen, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Ten "specials" ranged from billy Taylor's Tufts University-commissioned "Make a Joyful Noise" to tributes to Fred Astaire, Eddie Jefferson, and Charlie Parker.
As dizzy Gillespie, a major jazz tradition breaker, said in a quick conversation before going on state, "We hardly know what jazz is anymore."
One contemporary jazz event at Carnegie Hall, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Friends, was broadcast live for the first time via satellite and National Public Radio.
Toshiko, well known in jazz circles for her triple skills as composer, arranger, and pianist, opened the concert with a striking composition featuring a repetitive left-hand figure that lent insistent drive to the theme and development, which she executed with strength and clarity.
In several somewhat shy conversations with the audience she confessed she was nervous and said, "I was in New York from 1959 to 1972 and never played in this place." She looked in awe around the hallowed hall. "I am so happy it happened while I'm still alive."
She was joined in the first half of the program by drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist George Duvivier, trombonist Curtis Fuller, alto man Phil Woods, and Dizzy Gillespie for some serious- minded chamber jazz.
Dressed in conservative light gray suit and unusually subdued, Dizzy was in top musical form. His solo on "Alone Together" was a best-ever in tone, in dramatic use of fortes and pianissimos, arching phrases and strategic rests. Woods, with disguising glasses and beard, and looking outdoorsy in a flat cap with wide visor, buff jacket, and dark jeans, was recognizable mainly by his customary brilliant alto work. Fuller accompanied his big-toned trombone playing with little jumps, shoulder twists, and knee bends. At some of his blasts he would jump back, as if startled by what he heard.
Later the group was joined by tenor man Lew Tabackin, Miss Akiyoshi's husband. Like Fuller, he seemed unable to get through more than a measure of two standing still. His legs and feet were either in marching-in-place motion or twisting in what seemed to indicate some private agony. He played assertively, using a big, ripe tone reminiscent of the sound of the old society tenor bands.
In her buttery yellow long dress with its dainty ruffles, Toshiko brought a note of grace and humility to the proceedings. For the second half, in white satiny tailored blouse and pants, she filled a more demanding workhorse role as conductor, composer- arranger, and pianist of the Akiyoshi- Tabackin big band. Her compositions and arrangements embodied vivid orchestral color and Oriental flavor, and often reflected her personal attitudes and experiences. One number, "After Mr. Teng," she explained, was dedicated to China's about-to-retire Prime Minister Deng Xiaoping. "I am happy about Chinese- American relations," she said.
Another reflected what she called her rootlessness: "I was in this city 25 years. I lived in Japan 9 years. I was born in China."
Though she was the dominant force in this part of the program, it was Mr. Tabackin who was constantly "out front" with tenor solos, flute solos, and walking on and off stage. His extended a cappella tenor solo on "Chasing After Love" ended the concert on a sustained high of exhibitionism.
But it was the monumental talent and graciousness of Toshiko that really came out on top and stamped her as one of the authentic and towering stars of the 1980 festival.
Another concert at Carnegie Hall headlined "Two Tenor Saxmen," Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz. Though unlike in approach, tone, and manner, they both have roots in the no-vibrato, non-hot jazz school of playing. Mr. Gordon shows familiar standards on which to build his ponderous choruses. "As Time Goes By" was highlighted by a remarkable piano solo minus the incessant overplay of drums. It was so intricately wrought and artistically performed that the audience sat in pin-drop quiet. Mr. Gordon, too, executed an appealing solo on this tune, interpolating long quotes from "Tenderly," with more vibrato and less heaviness.
In a final up-tempo blues, he put his commanding tone and style to a series of licks and riffs that had his quartet swinging. He left a mixed impression: A tall, stately man in an off-white suit of impeccable tailoring, whimsical in attitude but blowing in the heavy, hard-toned, vibrato-less style of the post- boppers, he chose jam session standards instead of later-era compositions for his improvisations. Is he really a melodist, even perhaps a romanticist?
Stan Getz and his four young musicians ("My band's ages range from 32 to 19") kept to numbers like Wayne Shorter's "Lester Left Town" (a tribute to the late Lester Young), played in the on-and-on mode, technically awesome, awesomely tiresome. Not until he ended the concert with an old standby from his bossa nova days did Mr. Getz's tone come through in all its characteristic unalloyed purity. What a relief to hear a graceful flow of melody and to laugh at the old "Good Evening, friends" tag he added. An encore gave him an opportunity to introduce his pianist-to-be, Mitchell Forman, and Forman's gospely, foot-stomping, country-flavored composition, "Hospitality Creek." Saratoga segment
"Jazz Kaleidoscope," the festival's Saratoga Springs segment held at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, gave the edge to "real" jazz, counting in programs by jazz-oriented vocalists and performers, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, and Manhattan Transfer.
Now in its third season, the Saratoga portion, with its outdoor setting, booths offering arts, crafts, and special foods, and the informality of anything-goes dress and relaxed listening, recaptures the spirit of the festival's "good old days" in Newport, R.I.
Jazz flowed freely from noon to midnight both days in the huge outdoor pavilion, open on three sides but roofed to protect performers and audiences from the elements. And the elements were in full swing during the evening hours of the 5th. Rain turned the humanity-packed grassy slopes outside the pavilion into soggy and muddy beachheads. Plastic "tents" covered the foresighted. Cars with drenched riders pulled out of the parking acres, but others soon took their places, much as groups replaced other groups on stage.
There was plenty for everyone, from the easygoing horns of Vic Dickenson and Doc Cheatham to the humorous recall of the '20s and '30s by the Widespread Depression Orchestra, the pounding rock-jazz of Spyro Gyra, and the Latin-tinged jazz that cropped up frequently.
Chick Corea's Latin-saturated music pounded on and on in frenzied rapport with the frenzied audience. A letup came when Mr. Corea spent several minutes at the concert grand. He is a schooled classical pianist and a joy to hear. His touch is delicate when he escapes the heavy electronics of his trade. But that wasn't for long. The band was soon blasting away, the delicacy dispersed. His music calls up images of bullfights, and in its endless rounds of going nowhere (to Western ears) it holds similarities to Indian ragas. It often seemed like an oppressor beating on unsuspecting victims, but the crowd responded to it with deafening applause.
It took a woman with only the instrument of her voice and her knowing use of it to top the triumph of the volume and violence of Mr. Corea's electronic weaponry.
Sarah Vaughan, backed by her gifted trio, opened with a slow-tempoed "Fascinatin' Rhythm," and was home free from then on through a series of new and familiar numbers from her repertoire. Her operatic range, the vocal tricks and twists she can toss off, her expert scat singing, brought the same deafening response that all the electronic noise did.
Sunday the sum shone, fresh breezes dried mud and clothes, and the crowds again were happily sardined in for the second 12-hour jazz bonanza.
Released from his more serious role in the Toshiko Carnegie Hall concert and back in clowning form, Dizzy Gillespie brought his usual bumptious humor to his stint. He played some full-toned, passionate horn on "St. Louis Blues" and his own classic, "Night in Tunisia," and everybody loved it and him.
Delivering the ultimate "real" jazz message was the revered "hot" violinist Stephane Grappelli, who long ago played in the famous Quintette of the Hot Club of France with the late Django Reinhardt. his current group of two guitars and bass played by young musicians from England and the Continent got that old quintet sound, though amplified. Grappelli, trim in white slacks and dark patterned shirt, his white hair setting off his pleasant face, played his fiddle with the rapture and expertise of an Itzhak Perlman. The tunes: "Shine," "Let's Fall in Love," "Willow Weep for Me," and all such. His performance was absolutely electric -- in quality, not voltage. He and the quartet provided a rare interlude of graceful thrilling jazz.
Larry Coryell played a solo guitar set, venting his tremendous technique and interpretive skills on "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," by Charles Mingus, and some of his own Spanish-Flavored originals. He sat in on the last two or three numbers with grappelli and revived for those few minutes the Quintette of the Hot Club of France.
Big bands were in short supply. The only band Sunday evening was the Ellington group directed by Mercer Ellington. It surged with that unmistakable steamy, close-harmony Ellington sound and featured Cootie Williams as guest trumpet star.
Mel Torme came on afterward to sing, scat, play the piano, and lift up the audience to insistent calls for more after a somewhat slow start.
If Torme is a hard act to follow, so were his followers, the two-man -- two-gal vocal group and band, Manhattan Transfer. They put on their spectacular act, turning old swing band evergreens into phenomenal jazz chorales. They did shouting, gospel-type numbers and dressed-up standards like "You Can Depend on Me" with exuberant style and choreography.