What is jazz? While musicologists make their living out of defining that elusive, peculiarly American musical idiom, they're going to have to deal with a new explosion of pop stars-turned-crossover jazz artists. This year's Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival will include performances by acts such as Elvis Costello, Mickey Hart, Al Green, Dr. John, Stereolab, Los Lobos, and Me'Shell Ndegéocello, all better known for their work in pop and rock.
The summer festival is, in fact, a four-part series of performances to be held in Washington, D.C. (May 4-7), Philadelphia (May 11-14), Boston (May 17-21), and New York (June 1-11). As well as the aforementioned hit-makers, the lineup also features jazz pioneers like the 70-year-old Ornette Coleman, percussionist Max Roach, the Sun Ra Arkestra, and a musical tribute to the legendary trumpeter Louis Armstrong.
If you can't make it to any of the festival sites, you can still see archived performances on the Web site www.jazze.com.
Costello will appear at the New York dates. He's performing in the opera Welcome to the Voice, written by longtime Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve. The New York leg of the festival also hopes to draw nascent jazz fans with appearances by drone rockers Stereolab, New Orleans' Neville Brothers, and bluesman Robert Cray to a variety of venues, including Central Park and the Knitting Factory.
Los Lobos will appear at the Washington, D.C., dates. The nation's capital also plays host to the Armstrong tribute. Scheduled to participate are bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and Melba Joyce, who has sung with artists like Smokey Robinson. In Washington you can also see saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Paul Bley, and Ali Akbar Khan, a 78-year-old Bangladeshi sador virtuoso who has been known to practice for up to 18 hours a day. Showoff.
Ndegéocello and Hart will play Philadelphia with the Groove Collective and the Jazz Mandolin Project, respectively. If that isn't daunting enough, in Boston you can catch Greg Osby, one of the era's most intrepid saxophonists; Also scheduled for Beantown is popular jam band Medeski, Martin & Wood, bop-inspired guitarist Mark Elf, and the William Hooker Trio
In New York, saxophonist Ornette Coleman - considered one of the most innovative composers of the last century - is debuting three new works. The venerable renegade will play with two trios. Longtime Coleman cohorts bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins will accompany him in the first trio, and Charnett Moffett (bass) and Ornette's son Denardo Coleman (drums) play in the second unit.
With telecommunications giant Bell Atlantic newly signed on as a sponsor, the Jazz Festival is hale and hearty. But another famed music gathering has just lost its main financial supporter. Ice cream makers Ben & Jerry's have announced they will no longer be supporting the Newport Folk Festival, which in the past has seen epochal performances from Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
Ben & Jerry's said its reason for abandoning its 12-year support of the festival was because it wanted to set up its own. Spokeswoman Chrystie Heimert told Reuters, "We decided it was not the best use of our marketing dollars." Ben and Jerry's recent purchase by Unilever for $326 million may also have something to do with its change of priorities.
This year the festival will instead be sponsored by the Newport Creamery, another ice cream maker and restaurant chain based in Rhode Island. Bob Swain, the company's owner and president, said, "We're making history; it is the first time a Rhode Island company has sponsored this spectacular summer tradition. It is all part of our effort to closely identify our restaurants with our hometown. We are actively involved with our community and striving to bring the flavor of Newport into everything we do."
The festival will be held August 4-6 in Newport . The musical lineup will be announced next month.