Christian McBride’s big band had just finished a bustling rendition of “The Shade of the Cedar Tree” on the main stage of the Newport Jazz Festival here on Saturday afternoon when the bandleader felt compelled to speak.
“I’m partial to jazz with a little bit of grease in it,” Mr. McBride told the audience in his affable baritone, as the applause died down. “Sometimes we get a little too into this gluten-free lifestyle.”
In March 2016, Mr. McBride became artistic director of the now 63-year-old festival — taking the reins directly from its 91-year-old co-founder, George Wein — so his metaphors matter. Mr. McBride, the 45-year-old bassist, is one of jazz’s uncontainable talents, able and eager to play almost anything, but he’s also one if its traditionalist standard-bearers. When he talks about grease, or carbs, he’s talking about the blues.
Lots of comparable festivals across the United States book pop acts as headliners, using jazz for its credibility and paramusical value. But Newport hasn’t stretched its rope very far, relying on its identity as the pre-eminent presenter of improvised music, and enjoying a reliable audience.
Mr. McBride wants to talk about how that role can be used. He’s sensitive about jazz becoming a marketing device, but also about the idea that it might be seen as a broad-brush label for experimentalism in American music. To him, jazz means something more like blues tradition, boldly extrapolated. Speaking backstage after the end of his set, Mr. McBride explained that he thinks a jazz festival in 2017 ought to include some kindred sounds from around the way.
“Henry Threadgill or Naturally 7 or One For All or DJ Logic, whoever it is — there’s some sort of a spiritual, unspoken, musical bond there with all of it,” he said, naming an avant-garde pioneer, a gospel-tinged a cappella group, a straight-ahead jazz sextet and a turntablist, all of whom were on the bill at this year’s festival.
The Roots — not likely to have been booked by Mr. Wein — closed the festival on Sunday afternoon, charging from Herbie Hancock acid-funk (“Actual Proof”) to a hard-bitten original (“Get Busy”) to a rollicking “Jungle Boogie.” More than in years past, the main stage featured music to move to. The pianist Jason Moran brought his Fats Waller Dance Party, making a ricocheting funk jam out of old repertoire and allowing the vocalist Lisa Harris to reinhabit the classic self-possession anthem “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” paring down the lyrics, letting her sighs and her body movements communicate her pride.