Jon Batiste wows the crowd at Newport Jazz Festival at Newport Casino

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The opening concert of the 65th Newport Jazz Festival, which was held on Friday, Aug. 2 at the Newport Casino’s International Tennis Hall of Fame, celebrated the great past, present, and future of jazz.

Jon Batiste, famous for being the music director of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” hosted the show, named “Jon Batiste and Friends,” and performed with his 4 guests, including Ethan Iverson, ELEW, Corrine Bailey Rae, and PJ Morton.

Under a summer evening’s twilight sky reminiscent in Venice, a sliver of the moon visible beyond the stage, with the turrets of the historic Newport Casino rooftop, Batiste started the show with a riveting solo of the national anthem. The jazz star’s version injected echoes of African American musical history, from the craggy bop passages and gravitas of blues chords to second-line rhythmic ripples that came from his hometown and also the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans.

In a black satin suit, Batiste wove threads of jazz history into a tasty gumbo of styles and flavors, drawing from the bounty that is shared by jazz performers and listeners: a long memory of its rich songbook combined with a taste for the new.

Batiste demonstrated his credentials like a masterful player with his initial solo, and then presented his four guests, each of who performed a set with a solo followed by Batiste and his ensemble – drummer Joe Saylor and bassist Philip Kuehn from Batiste’s own band, Stay Human, and trumpeter Giveton Gelin, percussionist Negah Santos, and Patrick Bartley on alto sax.

His guests were versatile, category-crossing, and highly accomplished jazz performers. ELEW (aka Eric Lewis), PJ Morton, and Ethan Iverson are pianists, and their sets all included piano duos with Batiste. Corrine Bailey Rae – the two-time Grammy-winning vocalist – led the concluding set.  

Throughout the show, the musicians wove in improvised quotes of classics by artists such as Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, Fats Domino Dr. John, and Art Neville, who died just 3 weeks before. They also invited listeners to celebrate their lives in jazz history by conjuring the familiar within the new.