The music, in its range of styles, its quality, and the age of the artists performing it, also projected Wein’s spirit. The sets of the two legends suffered somewhat from logistical glitches. Ron Carter’s set opening the Fort Stage was half an hour late to start and then cut short. Likewise, band Jazz Is Dead, featuring saxophonist great Gary Bartz, were still testing the sound on the Quad Stage 20 minutes into their set. Anyone hoping to catch some before heading to Fort Stage for Jason Moran and the Bandwagon faced a tough decision on when to give up and move on.
The Moran set was worth seeing in its entirety – arguably the highlight of the day for hardcore jazz heads. His trio with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, now entering its third decade as a unit, ripped through a medley of his own music (“Gangsterism on Stages” and “For Love”) and Geri covers. Allen (“Feed the Fire”), Wes Montgomery (“Four on Six”), Fats Waller (“The Sheik of Araby”), and Thelonious Monk (“Thelonious”). “For us, it’s a family,” he told the audience during a break. Later came several plays by James Reese Europe, which Moran described as “the big bang of everything that happens here”.
Moran’s set ended with him leading the audience in a brief accompaniment. Audience participation is commonplace at the Fort Stage, where most bands are chosen to appeal to a large audience. The best of those Sundays was the fiery New Orleans horn ensemble, the Soul Rebels, who carried the cheering crowds to the stage through song and dance missions. Angelique Kidjo was jaw-dropping, but her set didn’t need to get the Fort Stage audience dancing – they were already doing that.
More intellectual things were happening around the corner from the relatively intimate Harbor Stage, among them the Emmet Cohen Trio, saxophonist Melissa Aldana and the Vijay Iyer Trio, which featured Linda May Han Oh on bass and had Jeremy Dutton replacing Tyshawn . Sorey on drums.
British tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia played a stellar set, her Newport debut, at the medium-sized Quad Stage, mixing tunes from her “Source” album with new material and dancing every time a band member played solo . A new coin had yet to be named, but judging by the audience reaction, it will be a keeper.
The tribute to Wein on the Fort’s main stage began with an intergenerational all-star jam featuring Faddis and Randy Brecker on trumpet, Lew Tabackin on tenor sax, Anat Cohen on clarinet, Christian Sands on piano, the artistic director of the festival Christian McBride on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. Jay Leonhart replaced McBride on bass for surprise guest Cecile McLorin Salvant’s vocal contribution. She was followed by piano virtuoso Hiromi, who took to the stage holding up a sign saying “Thank you George”, then performed unaccompanied, periodically smiling at the audience as she blazed through surprisingly difficult bursts of notes.
Faddis, Leonhart and Nash joined Hiromi for a touching “Over the Rainbow”. Next came Trombone Shorty, who blew trumpet and sang on “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” then switched to his namesake instrument for “St. James Infirmary. The party of standards Wein adored performed by artists he had loved and defended continued with Cohen’s return for “Jitterbug Waltz.” For the sizable crowd that lingered through it all, Wein’s memory was indeed a blessing.