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British saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s view from Newport is about to change

Nubya Garcia is coming to the Newport after recent performances at the Montreux and North Sea jazz festivals.Tayo Rapoport

Nubya Garcia will be performing her Newport Jazz Festival debut on Sunday. But it won’t be the first Newport Jazz Festival that the young British saxophonist, band leader, and composer has attended.

While a student at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, she and her housemates made a two-week trip to the United States in 2014 to explore New York jazz clubs. Garcia had relatives in New York, and she had already done a five-week summer program at the Berklee College of Music while in high school. (“An illuminating experience,” Garcia says of her time in Boston. “It was the first time I thought about going to study jazz properly.”)


“During that time, Newport was on, and we managed to get tickets and get up there,” she recalls of the trip to the States. “It was phenomenal. It was raining, and it was incredible — just from being so inspired and overwhelmed at the same time.”

Garcia, 30, was speaking from home via Zoom during a break from touring earlier this month, having performed at the Montreux and North Sea jazz festivals the previous week.

“These are kind of a similar area for me in the quote unquote jazz world,” she responds when asked whether being booked at Newport held special significance for her. “So the albums I’ve listened to and loved: You know, ‘Newport in this year’ and ‘Newport in this year.’ When I was looking at the posters at Montreux — and album covers, specifically — that said the place and the year, I was like, ‘Bloody hell, this is real.’ You couldn’t have told me this 10 years ago, as a struggling student who is like, ‘Can I do this?’”

As things played out, it took her only eight years to get from the audience to onstage at Newport. Garcia is among the leading lights of a thriving new British jazz scene driven largely by young musicians with family roots in the Caribbean. Shabaka Hutchings and Theon Cross, who will also be performing at Newport this weekend in the Hutchings-led Sons of Kemet, have respective ties to Barbados (Hutchings) and St. Lucia and Jamaica (Cross). Garcia’s Trinity Laban classmate Moses Boyd is the son of parents from Dominica and Jamaica.


Garcia, daughter of a Guyanese mother and a British-Trinidadian father, has worked with each of them. And like them, she has broadened and energized her music with an array of Afro-Caribbean and other contemporary influences. Her late stepfather, who had roots in Barbados, was a huge jazz fan who owned lots of brass instruments and records. But he and her mother also loved reggae, dub, and other styles of music.

“For me, with the influence of many different musics — let’s say in sounds and energy and dance — [it] inspires me to create something that sounds natural to me,” Garcia explains. “That the amalgamation of everything in my head, which will be a different amalgamation to someone else’s — that’s what is beautiful about what makes us unique as creators and performers and artists and musicians.

“I have now reached a place where I’m understanding and reflecting on the fact that I’m not trying to make a type of music. My younger version of self was like, ‘Yeah, I want to be a jazz musician.’ But what does ‘a jazz musician’ mean? I can literally tell you a different answer every single day, and I find beauty in that.”


Getting to that place involved stints in the women-led collective Nérija and the sextet Maisha, and releasing two EPs as a leader in 2017 and 2018. Also in 2018, she performed at New York’s Winter JazzFest and on several tracks on Makaya McCraven’s widely celebrated double album “Universal Beings.”

Garcia’s debut full-length LP, “Source,” was released in August 2020, ruling out touring for many months afterward because of the pandemic. But the album — a meditation on family and community as sources of artistic inspiration, via songs like the dub-inflected title track, the comparably danceable “La cumbia me está llamando,” and the balladic tribute to her stepfather “Together Is a Beautiful Place to Be” — nonetheless increased her visibility in the United States.

Garcia won the rising star tenor saxophonist category in the 2021 DownBeat critics poll. This past April she played a powerful, well-received set at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tenn. And the long break from touring had given her time to take stock, release remixes of earlier material, and write new music, some of which she’ll play at Newport.

“We are celebrating the record at the same time as bringing in new things,” says Garcia. “I love to play music from ‘Source’ and some of the remixes, but I enjoy the process of not knowing what this tune is. I enjoy the exploration, and that it will never be the same again, ever, at each live gig. But when it doesn’t even really exist in full form yet, at all, it just feels like you’re building and growing something in real time.”


At Newport, Garcia will be joined by Daniel Casimir and Sam Jones, the bassist and drummer from “Source,” with Greg Spero subbing for Joe Armon-Jones on keyboards. Spero is originally from suburban Chicago, which will come in handy when Garcia, Sons of Kemet, and McCraven play a triple bill in that city on Aug 2.

Garcia sees an “incredible connection between Chicago and London. We have a similar energy, whether it’s in the dance and electronic music that’s going on, the history of that. But it’s deep in the core of even jazz playing.”

But first comes Newport, which remains a big deal to the rising star despite her recent accolades.

“All in all, it feels quite surreal,” Garcia acknowledges. “I just want it to be an honest representation of who we are as the unit, me and my band. I want it to be inviting and just an experience, rather than put too much pressure on what it means. But I’m so excited. I’m a bit like, ‘I can’t believe it’s happening.’”

Bill Beuttler can be reached at bill@billbeuttler.com.