At Newport Jazz Festival, legends, rising stars, and exciting collaborations

Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein sent out an e-mail blast last month describing his successful appeal to Andra Day, who had played Billie Holiday in the recent film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” to perform at this year’s festival, which she will do on Sunday.

“I’m looking forward to her performance as one of the highlights of the festival,” Wein wrote. “My suggestion is that you not miss her performance — she is a unique and formidable artist who should be on your radar.”

That last bit applies to many others who will be performing at this weekend’s reduced-capacity, sold-out festival at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, R.I. What follows is a sampling of some of them.


When Wynton Marsalis announced he would miss this year’s festival owing to “unforeseen circumstances” he was quickly replaced by saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who in recent years has become nearly as big a draw.

Robert Glasper, artist in residence for this year’s festival, will perform all three days: with his acoustic trio on Friday, with frequent collaborator Terrace Martin on Saturday, and with special guests for a “Black Radio” production on Sunday. Festival artistic director Christian McBride will play sets Friday and Sunday as well.

Paris-born Makaya McCraven was raised in Western Massachusetts, where he grew up among musician friends of his parents such as Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef. Since then he has relocated to Chicago and forged his own reputation as a drummer and producer via several genre-blurring albums.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Christian Scott aTunde AdjuahEric Ryan Anderson


Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah has made himself one of jazz’s biggest names since graduating from Berklee a couple of decades ago. Fellow New Orleanians Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will perform a set as well.

Vocal highlights include a set by the great Mavis Staples and another by Ledisi, who will sing material from her new project, “Ledisi Sings Nina Simone” (and seems a fair bet to join Glasper for his “Black Radio” set on Sunday).

Saxophonists will also shine on Saturday. Tenor standout Chris Potter will bring his Circuits Trio. Altos to seek out include the veteran Kenny Garrett and rising star Immanuel Wilkins, whose arresting debut album, “Omega,” topped that category in the 2020 NPR Jazz Critics Poll.


Andra Day, Glasper, and McBride aside, Sunday’s lineup will include a mix of NEA Jazz Masters and rising stars.

Among the former are the tenor saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd and a trio co-led by the duo of pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland, whose third member is the superlative drummer Johnathan Blake.

The most intriguing sets involving lesser-known talents also include lesser-used instruments. These include a “Vibes Summit” featuring Joel Ross, Warren Wolf, and Sasha Berliner and a set by harpist Brandee Younger, whose debut album with Impulse is due out Aug. 13 (and whose mesmerizing and amusing lockdown album with her bassist husband Dezron Douglas, “Force Majeure,” was a silver lining to 2020).