Famed jazz festival in Newport gets new director

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Famed jazz festival in Newport gets new director

Christian McBride is no stranger to the main stage at the Newport Jazz Festival, and this year he’ll again be up there in a trio with pianist Chick Corea and drummer Brian Blade. But he’ll also be turning his attention to a new role backstage as he takes over as artistic director from festival founder George Wein.

The virtuoso bassist said Newport continues to be among the top festivals in the world, and he’s approaching his new role with the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Wein founded the jazz festival in 1954 after tobacco heiress Elaine Lorillard asked him to liven up the quiet summer scene in the resort town dotted with Gilded Age mansions. It was the first outdoor jazz festival and has since inspired open-air music festivals around the world. In 1959, Wein founded the Newport Folk Festival.

This weekend’s jazz fest, now held at the International Tennis Hall of Fame and at Fort Adams overlooking Narragansett Bay, is also scheduled to include performances by Gregory Porter, Norah Jones, Galactic, Kamasi Washington, Charles Lloyd, Robert Glasper, Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo.

Wein in 2010 established a nonprofit foundation with the plan to continue the festival long after he’s gone. While he is stepping away from duties picking the lineup at the jazz festival, he will remain involved.

“I understand that as long as George is alive, he’s always going to be the boss,” McBride, 44, said. “I would never go in with guns blazing telling George what’s going to happen… My plan is to take his palette and go with that.”

McBride was a great pick because he is involved in every aspect of the music, Wein said. He has a lengthy resume, including five Grammys, and has been involved in small bands, big bands and everything in between. His numerous other projects include hosting NPR’s “Jazz Night in America.”

In McBride’s new role, which officially begins with next year’s festival, he will choose the artists while Danny Melnick will book them and work behind the scenes on the business side.

Wein, now 90, likes to say he presents jazz “from J to Z,” meaning the full range of jazz styles.

“There’s no one word that describes it, no one period of music that describes it. It’s not New Orleans, it’s not traditional, it’s not swing. It’s everything that has come through historically, representing the world,” Wein said. Through the decades, Wein has not only presented established jazz stars but also provided a boost to the careers of up-and-coming jazz artists such as “The Late Show” bandleader Jon Batiste. Thirteen-year-old Indonesian piano prodigy Joey Alexander is returning this weekend after making a sensational debut at last year’s festival. AP
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