Happening at Fort Adams State Park from today to Sunday, the Newport Jazz Festival highlights a timeless style of music. There’s a case to be made and this is the biggest festival of its kind in the United States. This year’s edition is living up to the standard once again with the legendary Herbie Hancock, hip hop icon Common and saxophone phenomenon Kamasi Washington being the headliners. Performing on the quad stage on Friday night at 5:05pm is the Minneapolis jazz trio The Bad Plus. They’re no strangers to performing in Newport but one major change in the band is the inclusion of pianist Orrin Evans since founding member Ethan Iverson left in 2017.
I had a chat with bassist Reid Anderson about the instant chemistry him, Iverson and Dave King had during the band’s beginning, growing up with rock music on the radio, the freedom that comes with playing covers and what’s in store for the rest of 2019.
Rob Duguay: The Bad Plus have an interesting beginning due to how the band recorded their self-titled debut in 2001 after only playing three gigs together. Was there an instant chemistry that you, David and Ethan had that made this possible?
Reid Anderson: Yeah, we definitely did. We were each looking for something that we wanted to commit to for the long run and the chemistry we had made us feel that way initially from the start.
RD: What would you say gravitated you to jazz when you first started playing the upright bass?
RA: It was a gradual process of exploration. I started being exposed to music through rock radio while growing up in the twin cities, basically. It was through a combination of curiosity and having other like-minded friends that I found my way to jazz and the avant-garde among other things.
RD: I can definitely see the effect rock radio has had on you from the covers The Bad Plus has done over the years.
RA: Oh, absolutely.
RD: Some of these covers include songs by Nirvana, Rush, David Bowie, Black Sabbath among others. What was the first one you guys covered and what made you want to keep on doing these versions of other songs?
RA: I think the first song we did had to be Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on our first album along with Abba’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and then we did Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass”. It revolves around two things. We thought that it was important to have a dialogue with pop culture since jazz in its earlier days did have that conversation and the other thing is that it gave us a lot of freedom. We would play a song that the audience recognized and it allowed us to go to places that might have sounded more extreme if we played something that they didn’t know to begin with.
RD: I totally get that. The Bad Plus have played the Newport Jazz Festival a lot over the years, what does the festival mean to you as a musician?
RA: Of course, it’s one of the major festivals of the world and I remember as a teenager watching the broadcast of the festival. It was inspiring to see musicians playing live and improvising, it was something that you weren’t often exposed to on the television back in the late ‘80s. It was a great source of inspiration and imagination.
RD: After the festival this weekend, what does the rest of the year have in store for the band?
RA: We just recorded another album and that’s in the process of being assembled. It’ll be out in the fall and after this tour we have a little bit of time off until we start touring again in October.