Newport Jazz Festival broadens appeal but purists (read: some older fans) aren’t always pleased.
NEWPORT — The audience at the Newport Jazz festival is far from a monolith of jazz aficionados. Sure, there are jazz fans, but there are also casual fans of the genre and just casual music fans mixed together on the grounds of Fort Adams State Park.
The idea is the festival offers something different for everyone to come back year after year.
“They have to fill seats,” said Matt Brown on Saturday. He attended his first Jazz Festival in 1966 at Festival Field. “They obviously are trying to attract a younger crowd.”
That means some acts don’t neatly fall under the jazz genre. Just look at the performance by George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic last year. They closed out the festival with their signature brand of funk. On Sunday, rapper Common will be the last to take the Fort Stage.
Catering to a wider audience ensures that festival-goers have a place to see artists like Herbie Hancock and the Ron Carter Trio, Brown said.
Barbara Schmidt of Portland, Maine, who was at the festival for the first time, said some of the acts she saw Saturday were “not quite my taste” and noted she enjoys “more old-fashioned jazz.”
Long-time festival-goer Alex Richardson said he is more of a jazz traditionalist. It’s not just the acts being booked that are different, but the jazz genre itself.
“I follow the music closely,” said Richardson, who came down from western Massachusetts. “It’s become more electronic. We’ve lost melodies. We have rhythm, but have lost melodies. It’s more avant-garde. … You always need evolution. You always need change.”
Erik Zawodniak, 19, discovered the festival on the internet and attended for the first time last year. “It blew my mind,” he said.
He and his brother, Alex, made the trip from Connecticut on Saturday. Discounted student tickets made it worthwhile. “The bang for your buck can’t be beat,” Zawodniak said.
People don’t have to be jazz enthusiasts to appreciate the talent on display over the weekend, he said. “Most young people don’t necessarily listen to improvisational jazz live,” he said. “It’s beautiful. Anyone can appreciate it.”
Richardson, who is a percussionist and plays trumpet, said he wants to see the festival continue long into the future and maintain its status as the preeminent jazz showcase.
“It’s the granddaddy of them all,” he said. “It’s Newport and George Wein.”
The future of the festival could rest with people like Zawodniak and Tyler Manley..
Manley, 24, of Hingham, Massachusetts, was in town for his second Jazz Festival. “As long as I keep listening to jazz, I’ll be back,” he said.
Even if his tastes change, there will be other types of acts who might be able to lure him back. And that’s the point.