The drummer has had a busy year already, having accepted the NEA Jazz Masters award and having released a new album, Sound Travels. He continues his year-long 70th birthday celebration by assembling this ad hoc band of leading lights like guitarist Lionel Loueke and bassist Christian McBride, who are both leading their own gigs this year.
Even if you've never heard of Billy Edd Wheeler, you might recognize "Jackson," a song he wrote with the help of songwriting heavyweights Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller back in 1963. It was a Top 20 pop hit for Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra in 1967, and got to No. 2 on the country charts that same year in a version by Johnny Cash and June Carter.
" 'Jackson' is a fun song," Wheeler says. "It's been my most famous and most lucrative song. It helped build our house."
The name of the band refers to Ken Peplowski, a Swing-era specialist; Evan Christopher, a living historian of the New Orleans Creole clarinet; and Anat Cohen â€” what doesn't she do? They're not the only ones on stage, of course â€” they'll be backed by a band which knows the time-honored and broad-shouldered methods of swing. This reedy convocation on the state of the clarinet today was put together for Newport, and â€” on the birthday anniversary of Louis Armstrong â€” was filled with ad lib fireworks.
After a sunny, warm afternoon on the Rhode Island shore, the first full day of the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival has come and gone. If you've got a free moment, you can already replay many of the sets we recorded online. But starting at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, we'll be presenting eight more hours of live video from the festival at npr.org/newportjazz. Here's what's on tap: