URI jazz students to perform at iconic Newport Jazz Festival for second straight year

URI students will play all three days at the festival, Aug. 2-4

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 30, 2024 – The University of Rhode Island jazz program is going back to the Newport Jazz Festival for the second year in a row. But this year, URI will be sending a larger contingent of musicians to the iconic festival, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this summer.

Emmett Goods, assistant professor of music and head of the jazz studies program at URI, received the good word last week that URI jazz musicians were again invited to play all three days of the jazz festival—Aug. 2-4 at Fort Adams State Park in Newport—and to rub elbows with jazz greats like Kamasi Washington and Christian McBride.

“We’re very excited to be invited back to the festival,” said Goods. “Our students need to get out into the laboratory. When I say get into the laboratory, you don’t always have to be the one mixing the formula. Sometimes it’s important to watch other people do that. And that’s what this festival is an opportunity to do—to meet and hear world-class musicians and take all the information we provide them in school and start to create.”

Making the invitation even more special is that it’s a major part of an ongoing collaboration with the Newport Festivals Foundation’s jazz education and community engagement efforts, Goods said.

The nonprofit foundation’s jazz education program, headed by noted saxophonist Leland Baker, provides numerous outreach programs for burgeoning musicians along with community engagement that includes free music lessons for children on Aquidneck Island.

URI jazz students have taken part in several events offered by the foundation, such as workshops that provide high school and college students with insights from professionals. In March, URI students went over to Salve Regina University for a workshop with Tia Fuller, saxophonist, composer and faculty member at Berklee College of Music. And numerous URI jazz students have performed at bi-weekly jam sessions sponsored by the foundation at the Blue Room in Cranston.

“We want to foster and give back to our community and support educators like Emmett and students who are lovers and practitioners of music, but in particular, jazz music,” said Baker, the foundation’s music education manager. “We want to help the students develop a well-rounded sense of what it means to be a professional artist or person in the music industry.

“People come from around the world to see the folk and jazz festivals,” he added. “My role is to incorporate our community into the festivals. That’s why we will have URI and other student bands again this year. I think it helps carry on the legacy that our founder, George Wein, initiated, which is to give artists the platform to express themselves freely and to cultivate their voice.”

At last year’s festival, seven URI student-musicians played a 25-minute set of jazz standards each day on the Foundation Stage, attracting hundreds of fans to the small stage. This year, Goods wants to open the experience to more students.

“Last year was a little different for us,” said Goods, who is director of URI’s Jazz Big Band, which last played the festival in 2019. “We’re used to playing one day and bringing the Big Band. So, we took a different tack and put together a really strong group that performed each day last year.

“This year, I want to get more students involved, shepherd them through the process and really get them that experience,” he added. “We are ultimately trying to come up with three small bands that will play something a little different each day.”

With the festival more than three months away, the URI musicians and the music they will feature have yet to be decided. But Goods said the jazz program has a lot to choose from – such as a new focus on Latin jazz led by piano teacher Zaccai Curtis; the jazz vocal program led by Atla DeChamplain, teaching professor in amplified voice; and the hard bop groove played by jazz bass teacher Dave Zinno’s students.

Whatever they choose to play, Goods hopes URI’s invitation to the jazz festival is a regular part of the foundation’s education and outreach program.

“What better way for us to grow and cultivate the jazz curriculum and program at URI,” he said. “The festival is a cultural nugget that I think is important for our students and we are excited about the possibility of this partnership deepening even more.”