|Newport Jazz Festival|
|Genre||Jazz initially, later years added rock music and pop music|
|Location(s)||Newport, Rhode Island|
|Founded by||George Wein, Elaine Lorillard|
The Newport Jazz Festival is a music festival held every summer in Newport, Rhode Island. It was established in 1954 by socialite Elaine Lorillard, who, together with husband Louis Lorillard, financed the festival for many years. The couple hired jazz impresario George Wein to organize the event to help them bring jazz to the resort town.
Most of the early festivals were broadcast on Voice of America radio, and many performances were recorded and have been issued by various record labels.
In 1972, the Newport Jazz Festival moved to New York City. In 1981, it became a two-site festival when it returned to Newport while continuing in New York. From 1984 to 2008, the festival was known as the JVC Jazz Festival; however, during the economic downturn of 2009, JVC ceased its support of the festival and was replaced by CareFusion. As of 2012, the festival is sponsored by Natixis Global Asset Management .
In 1954, the first Newport Jazz Festival (billed as the "First Annual American Jazz Festival") was held at Newport Casino, in the Bellevue Avenue Historic District of Newport, Rhode Island. It incorporated academic panel discussions and featured live musical performances.
In 1955, organizers were planning a second year for the festival but needed to find a new venue. The Newport Casino would not again host the festival since its lawn and other facilities did not stand up well to such a large event. Festival backer Elaine Lorillard, with her husband, purchased "Belcourt", a large estate which was available locally, in hopes of hosting the festival there. However, the neighborhood disallowed that plan, citing concerns about potential disturbance. Consequently, the workshops and receptions were held at Belcourt, while the music was presented at Freebody Park, an arena for sports near the casino.
Some Newport residents were opposed to the festival. Jazz appreciation was not common within the established upper-class community, and the festival brought crowds of younger music fans to Newport. Many attendees were students who, in the absence of sufficient lodging, slept outdoors wherever they could, with or without tents. Newport was at first not accustomed to this. Traffic gridlock and other contention near the downtown venue were legitimate concerns. Moreover, many of the musicians and their fans were African American. Racist attitudes were probably a factor in some residents' opposition to the festival too as it commonly was across the country at that time.
Nonetheless, the festival continued annually and increased in popularity.
In 1960, boisterous spectators created a major disturbance, and the National Guard was called to the scene. Word that the disturbances had meant the end of the festival, following the Sunday afternoon blues presentation headlined by Muddy Waters, reached poet Langston Hughes, who was in a meeting on the festival grounds. Hughes wrote an impromptu lyric, "Goodbye Newport Blues", that he brought to the Muddy Waters band onstage, announcing their likewise impromptu musical performance of the piece himself, before pianist Otis Spann led the band and sang the Hughes poem.
The 1960 event was also notable for the presence of a rival jazz festival that took place at the Cliff Walk Manor Hotel, just a few blocks away. This was organized by musicians Charles Mingus and Max Roach in protest against the lower pay that the Newport festival offered jazz innovators in comparison with more mainstream performers; the fact that the innovators were mostly black and the mainstream performers mostly white was also an aggravating factor.
In 1961, presentation of the official Newport Jazz Festival was disallowed, due to the difficulties associated with the previous year's festival. In its place, another festival, billed as "Music at Newport", was produced by Sid Bernstein in cooperation with a group of Newport businessmen. That festival included a number of jazz musicians but was financially unsuccessful. Bernstein announced that he would not seek to return to Newport in 1962.
In 1962, the Newport Jazz Festival resumed at Freebody Park. Wein did not resurrect the extinct not-for-profit organization which had run the Newport Jazz Festival through 1960; instead, he freshly incorporated the festival as an independent business venture of his own. He was a music festival pioneer and would run many festivals besides the Newport Jazz Festival during his career.
The 1964 festival was the last at Freebody Park, since the event had outgrown that venue also. Festival organizers saw a need to move the festival outside of the downtown area, since the festival-caused gridlock there was a contentious point in the community. A suitable site, actually a simple but ample field, which would become known as Festival Field, was identified, and the move was completed for the 1965 festival. Frank Sinatra played the festival that year, and new attendance records were set.
The festival's 1969 program was an experiment in fusing jazz, soul, and rock music, and their respective audiences. Its lineup included, besides jazz performances, Friday evening appearances by such rock groups as Jeff Beck, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Ten Years After, and Jethro Tull. Saturday's schedule mixed jazz acts, such as Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis, with performers in other genres, including John Mayall and Sly & the Family Stone. On Sunday, James Brown was among those who appeared in the afternoon, followed in the evening by Herbie Hancock, blues musician B. B. King, and the English rock group Led Zeppelin.
Davis remarked that the various artists involved were highly encouraging to each other and that he enjoyed the festival more than ever before. He also noticed and appreciated the spirited nature of the younger audience.
But some clashes did occur. Excess crowds, estimated at 20,000, who had been unable to obtain tickets filled an adjacent hillside, and the weekend was marred by disturbances, including fence crashing and crowd surging, during the most popular performances. Saturday evening's disturbances were particularly significant, prompting producer George Wein, who feared a riot, to announce that the Sunday evening Led Zeppelin appearance was cancelled. That show was allowed to go forward as initially scheduled after much of the overflow crowd had left the city, following the cancellation announcement.
For 1971, the festival booked The Allman Brothers Band, a pioneering Southern bluesrock group. Many more fans were drawn than Festival Field could cope with. On the second night of the festival, following the recording of what would be released as The Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring Gerry Mulligan - The Last Set at Newport on Atlantic Records, over 12,000 people (would-be festival goers combined with young college age anti-Vietnam war protesters of that era) occupying the adjacent hillside crashed the fence during Dionne Warwick's performance of "What The World Needs Now Is Love", initiating a major disturbance. That year's festival was halted after the stage was rushed by the intruders and equipment destroyed. The festival would not return to Newport in 1972.
In 1972, festival producer George Wein transplanted the festival to New York City, calling it the Newport Jazz Festival-New York. An expanded format involved multiple venues, that year including Yankee Stadium and Radio City Music Hall. The 1972 festival comprised 30 concerts, with 62 all-star performers including Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Roberta Flack, and Dizzy Gillespie.
In 1973, there were also two concerts at Fenway Park in Boston, billed under the name "Newport New England Jazz Festival".
This format continued with fair success through the next years, but producer George Wein would grow to miss the classic outdoor festival environment lost in the transition to New York City's multiple metropolitan venues.
In 1977, George Wein arranged with Saratoga Springs, New York to move the Newport Jazz Festival from New York City to its Saratoga Performing Arts Center during the following year. He established the Newport Jazz Festival-Saratoga there, as well as reversed his decision to pull out of New York City, retaining the Newport Jazz Festival-New York in what amounted to an expansion of the festival.
The Saratoga addition demonstrated a trend of using the "Newport Jazz Festival" name in branding festivals other than the original festival at Newport. This trend continued elsewhere, even to Japan's Newport Jazz Festival in Madarao, held in 1982-2004.
Also in the 1970s, the Newport Jazz Festival pioneered the involvement of corporate sponsorship of music festivals. Working with brands including Schlitz and KOOL, the Newport Jazz Festival was presented under various names utilizing a title sponsorship in conjunction with the Newport Jazz Festival brand.
In 1981, George Wein brought the Newport Jazz Festival back to Newport, partly to preserve the Newport Jazz Festival legacy and to protect his interest in the Newport Jazz Festival name. Arrangements with the title sponsor of the Newport Jazz Festival-New York had seen that festival promoted as the "Kool Jazz Festival". It is notable that Kool cigarettes are a product of R.J. Reynolds', a competitor of the Lorillard Tobacco Company's, whose equivalent product is called Newport cigarettes.
The Newport Jazz Festival did not return to Festival Field in Newport but to the Fort Adams State Park, a prime seaside venue affording a free view of the festival to on-the-water yachtsmen. A daytime-only, alcohol-free format was adopted, and presentations were made on three separate days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), as they are today.
Newport, now quite keen to tourism, was extremely receptive to the resumption of its Newport Jazz Festival. The festival was immediately successful upon returning to Newport, although no longer quite the draw it had been in its first years, owing to shifting interests and to the proliferation of competing festivals.
In early 2007, Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein sold his Festival Productions company in a merger with festival producer Shoreline Media. The merger saw the creation of a new company, Festival Network LLC. That company now owns and operates the Newport festival and controls the legacy "Newport Jazz Festival" brand. Wein continues with the new company in a senior position but has a relaxed role in festival operations.
Starting in 2007, the Newport festival began serving beer and wine at Fort Adams State Park.
George Wein returned to the reins of the Festival for 2009. He had previously announced that the folk festival, to be known as George Wein's Folk Festival 50, would be held July 31-August 2 that year, and the jazz festival, to be known as George Wein's Jazz Festival 55, August 7-9. Major acts for the Jazz Festival's relaunch included Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Etta James and the Roots Band, the Branford Marsalis Quartet, and Mos Def. In addition to Fort Adams State Park, festival shows were presented at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Two of the most famous performances in the festival's history are Miles Davis' 1955 solo on "'Round Midnight" and the Duke Ellington Orchestra's lengthy 1956 performance of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue", featuring a 27-chorus saxophone solo by Paul Gonsalves. Davis and Thelonious Monk's combined album, Miles & Monk at Newport (released in 1964), documented the artists' respective 1958 and 1963 appearances at the festival. Other noteworthy soloists, aside from the bandleaders, were John Coltrane and Pee Wee Russell. Eventually, Columbia Records released an album displaying more of the Miles Davis Sextet's 1958 set on an album called Miles & Coltrane.
A reconstructed Ellington at Newport, from his 1956 performance, was re-issued in 1999. Aside from the actual festival performance of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue", including the distant-sounding Gonsalves solo, the original album used re-creations, note for note, of some of the set's highlights, which were secretly re-recorded in the studio despite Ellington's objection. The new set restored the original festival performance after a recording from the Voice of America (which broadcast the performance) was discovered and, among other things, the odd timbre of the Gonsalves performance. Gonsalves, it turned out, stepped up to the wrong microphone to play his legendary solo; he stepped up to the VOA's microphone and not the band's. Gonsalves' performance so excited the audience that the festival sponsors feared that the crowd was on the verge of rioting.
The 1957 festival was well documented by Verve Records, which released 12 albums of recorded performances. The 1957 performances of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Carmen McRae were released on the album Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday at Newport (1958). Those by the Gigi Gryce-Donald Byrd Jazz Laboratory and the Cecil Taylor Quartet featuring Steve Lacy were released on At Newport (1958). The performance of Count Basie was issued as Count Basie at Newport in 1958.
The acclaimed film Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960) documented the 1958 festival. Sets by Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, and Miles Davis at that year's festival appeared respectively on the albums Newport 1958,Ray Charles at Newport (1958), and At Newport 1958. The performance of Horace Silver was issued in 2008 as Live at Newport '58.
Performances at the 1961 festival included Judy Garland, coming off the success of her two concerts at Carnegie Hall, the opening night of which was documented on the Grammy winning album Judy at Carnegie Hall. Garland was on tour to promote the album, mostly to sold out audiences. Sadly, no audio seems to survive of her performance at Newport.
The 1962 Festival is documented in a film released by Storyville Records. Among the performers are Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan, the Oscar Peterson Trio, Roland Kirk, Duke Ellington, and the Count Basie Orchestra featuring Jimmy Rushing, at the closing.
Part of the appearances by John Coltrane and Archie Shepp from the 1965 Festival appeared on the album New Thing at Newport. A set by Herbie Mann featuring Chick Corea, at that same year's festival, was released on the album Standing Ovation at Newport. Mann also released an album, mostly recorded at that performance, titled New Mann at Newport (1967).