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At this year's Newport Jazz Festival / ZEAL nyc

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The Newport Jazz Festival celebrates its 63rd anniversary this summer, promising three full days of exceptional live musical performances across multiple stages at Fort Adams Park in Newport, Rhode Island from Friday, August 4 through Sunday, August 6. Under new artistic directorship from bassist and jazz statesman Christian McBride, and backing by legendary founder and producer George Wein, attendees will enjoy a diverse score of national and international talent (see ZEALnyc‘s feature Passing the Newport Jazz Festival Baton from Founder George Wein to New Artistic Director Christian McBride). From this enormous lineup of accomplished artists, ZEALnyc profiles ten performers and/or groups that are certain to be highlights of this year's festival.

Extraordinary jazz ensemble fusion-based jam band with fearless migrations and explorations from jazz to rock to funk, come alive on stage Saturday August 5. Led by composer, bassist and leader Michael League, and following an exhaustive decade-long touring schedule around the globe, Snarky Puppy has found itself on the cover of DownBeat and Jazz Times. It's garnered Grammy awards and critical accolades, with Rolling Stone magazine calling them, "one of the most versatile bands on the planet." A multidiverse member band with a changing rotation of about 40 musicians, Snarky Puppy covers the full range of instrumental fluency and seeks to collaborate and risk in all fusion directions. Connecting with Lalah Hathaway (Grammy-winning soul to jazz singer and pianist) on Family Dinner-Volume One earned the group its first Grammy for "Best R&B Performance" in 2014. That was followed by a second Grammy for "Best Contemporary Instrumental" in 2016 for Sylva, having collaborated with the Dutch Metropole Orchestra to push boundaries, from Miles to Debussy. Snarky Puppy teems with a dynamic well of talent, taking chances live where "musical sophistication meets gritty danger."

Maria Schneider's compositions have been hailed by critics as "evocative, majestic, magical, heart-stoppingly gorgeous and beyond categorization." Along with having received many accolades as a musician, composer and visionary of interpretive jazz orchestra, she expresses an independent, unique and talented voice in stretching this genre-and also being an out-spoken music advocate for protective rights against digital piracy. Since 1992, she has fronted her orchestra around the world as conductor, composer and also musician (piano), blurring the lines between jazz and classical. She has been honored with Grammy awards in both areas: "Best Classical Contemporary Composition" in 2013 for Winter Morning Walks, featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw, and "Best Jazz Ensemble Album" in 2016 for The Thompson Fields that was reviewed as a "marriage of sound, words and images-ultimately breathtaking, a testament to the uplifting and sustainable powers of art." Add a sublime and sophisticated treat for your ears as Schneider's orchestra takes you on her latest journey, Sunday, August 6.
Maria Schneider Orchestra at Newport Jazz Festival; photo: Ayano Hisa.

 A dynamic experimentation partnership takes the stage as Vijay Iyer, multi-award winning improvisational jazz pianist (DownBeat's Critics Poll Jazz Artist of the Year 2012, 2015 and 2016) has teamed with legendary avant-guard trumpeter, composer, music theorist (and cultural activist) Wadada Leo Smith, to engage, explore and "merge as a single wave, or a single voice." Fresh from receiving multiple Best of 2017 DownBeat Critics Poll awards (Jazz Artist, Trumpet and Jazz Album for America's National Parks), Wadada has found "arguably the most productive time in his career." From playing extensively with Wadada in the trumpeter's Golden Quartet, Iyer's piano touch shares the mark of an extraordinary, individualist musician, evidenced as they both push boundaries with A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (2016) that received accolades as a "comprehensive masterpiece by two exceptional musicians." No seat will be unoccupied or hush broken when this compositional moment takes stage on Sunday, August 6.

Premier masterful banjo player, composer and bandleader Béla Fleck reunites with his original Grammy-award winning band, the Flecktones as they launch a U.S. tour-with all manners of genres coming into play, performing an "unclassifiable meld of jazz, progressive bluegrass, rock, classical, funk and world music traditions." The reformed Flecktones and leader Fleck released Rocket Science in 2011, to critical acclaim, including All Music's Thom Jurek's rave review: "Rocket Science fires on all cylinders…a fresh and exciting reintroduction to a newly energized Flecktones." The latest edition of the re-charged, re-fueled Flecktones quartet (including monster bassist Victor Wooten) and their fearless leader Béla return and bring their artistry to the festival on Saturday, August 5.

As the grandson of the late trumpeter Doc Cheatham, Theo Croker was mentored by legendary jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd. Now he is rapidly making his own statement with his 2016 release Escape Velocity taking the #1 Jazz Album in the U.K. by Echoes Magazine, and building his own reputation "as an artist steeped in jazz tradition" who has an amazing range that is "well-versed in swing, bop and modal styles of acoustic jazz." He began his well-deserved recognition working with multi Grammy-award winning jazz-diva vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, who encouraged him to record, resulting in 2014's Afro Physicist that champions his velvet-smooth horn and funk beat. This release, driven by strong reviews, reached #2 on the U.S. radio charts. Croker's melodic and funky and ethereal highs will be delivered on Sunday, August 6.