Newport Jazz Festival

Newport Jazz Festival
Newport Jazz Festival
McCoy Tyner and Ravi Coltrane performing at the Newport Jazz Festival on August 13, 2005.
Location(s) Newport, Rhode Island
Years active 1954-Present
Founded by George Wein and Elaine Lorillard.
Date(s) August
Genre Jazz
Website Official website

The Newport Jazz Festival is a music festival held every summer in Newport, Rhode Island, USA. 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. [1][2]

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.

The Newport Jazz Festival moved to New York City in 1972 and became a two site festival in 1981 when it returned to Newport and also continued in New York. The festival was known as the JVC Jazz Festival from 1984 to 2008. During the economic downturn of 2009, JVC ceased its support of the festival and was replaced by CareFusion.[3]

The festival is hosted in Newport at Fort Adams State Park, and is often held in the same month as its sister festival, the Newport Folk Festival.


Festival's establishment at Newport

In 1954 the first Newport Jazz Festival (billed actually 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. The live performances were set outdoors, on a lawn. These performances were given by a number of notable jazz musicians including Billie Holiday. The festival was hailed by major magazines and newspapers. About 11,000 attended between the two days. In general, the festival was regarded as a major success.[4][5]

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 didn't 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. The neighborhood would disallow that plan, citing concerns about potential disturbance. The festival went forward at Freebody Park, an arena for sports near the casino. The workshops and receptions would be held at Belcourt, and the music presented at Freebody Park. [6]

Some in upper-class Newport were opposed to the festival. Jazz appreciation was not common within the established upper-class community. The festival was organized mostly by younger members of the elite group populating Newport. The festival brought crowds of commoners to Newport. Many 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. And, many of the musicians and their fans were African American. Racism too was a factor in Newport as it commonly was across the land during that era. Traffic gridlock and other contention near the downtown venue were legitimate concerns, and were raised.[5]

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.[7] 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.

Presentation of the proper Newport Jazz Festival was disallowed in 1961 due to the difficulty of the previous year's festival. [8][9] 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.[10]

The Newport Jazz Festival resumed at Freebody Park in 1962. The extinct not-for-profit organization which had run the Newport Jazz Festival through 1960 was not resurrected by Wein. 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 currently ongoing 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. [11]

Newport strained by festival experimentation

The festival's 1969 program was an experiment in fusing jazz, soul and rock music and audiences. Its lineup included, besides jazz, Friday evening appearances by rock groups Jeff Beck, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Ten Years After and Jethro Tull. Saturday's schedule mixed jazz acts such as Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck with others including John Mayall and Sly & the Family Stone. James Brown was among those who appeared Sunday afternoon followed in the evening by Herbie Hancock, blues musician B. B. King and English rock group Led Zeppelin.

Miles Davis remarked that the various artists involved were highly encouraging to each other and that he enjoyed the festival more than ever before. He noticed and appreciated the spirited nature of the younger audience. But some clashes did occur. Excess crowds of several thousand 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.[12][13]

For 1971 the festival booked The Allman Brothers Band, a pioneering Southern rock group. Many more fans were drawn than Festival Field could cope with. On the second night of the festival, would-be festival goers 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. [14][15]

Expanded format, relocation to New York City

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 consisted of thirty concerts with 62 all-star performers including Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles and Roberta Flack. [16] In 1973, there were two concerts at Fenway Park in Boston, 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, but also 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. [17][18]

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.

Also in the 1970s, the Newport Jazz Festival pioneered the involvement of corporate sponsorship with 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. [19]

Return to Newport in 1981

George Wein brought the Newport Jazz Festival back to Newport in 1981 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".[20]

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. The new venue used three stages to present the festival, as it does 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, that owing to shifting interests and to the proliferation of competing festivals.[21]

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.[22]

Starting in 2007, the Newport festival began serving beer and wine at Fort Adams State Park.[23]

George Wein's Jazz Festival 55

George Wein has returned to the reins of the Festival for 2009. Wein had previously announced that the folk festival, to be known as George Wein's Folk Festival 50, would be held July 31-Aug. 2, and the jazz festival, to be known as George Wein's Jazz Festival 55, Aug. 7-9. Major acts are to include Tony Bennett, Mos Def, the Branford Marsalis Quartet, the Dave Brubeck Quartet and Etta James and the Roots Band. In addition to Fort Adams State Park, festival shows will also occur at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Notable performances and recordings

Two of the most famous performances in the festival's history are Miles Davis's 1955 solo on "'Round Midnight" and the Duke Ellington Orchestra's lengthy 1956 performance of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue". Miles & Monk at Newport documented respective 1958 and 1963 appearances at the festival. 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 Paul Gonsalves saxophone 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 against 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 microphone and not the band's. Gonsalves' performance originally caused a near riot in the festival crowd.

The 1957 performances of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae were released in 1958 on the album Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday at Newport. Those by the Gigi Gryce-Donald Byrd Jazz Laboratory and the Cecil Taylor Quartet featuring Steve Lacy were released on At Newport the same year.

The acclaimed film Jazz on a Summer's Day 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, and At Newport 1958.

Performances at the 1960 festival by Muddy Waters and Nina Simone were released as the albums At Newport 1960 and Nina Simone At Newport.

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. Among the performers are Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan, the Oscar Peterson Trio, Roland Kirk, Duke Ellington, and the closing with the Count Basie Orchestra featuring Jimmy Rushing.

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 of that same year's festival was released on the album Standing Ovation at Newport.

The performance by Albert Ayler at the 1967 festival was released as part of the Holy Ghost box set in 2004. An Ella Fitzgerald performance from Carnegie Hall in July of 1973 was documented on the album Newport Jazz Festival: Live at Carnegie Hall.

In an episode of the "Super Chicken" segment of George of the Jungle, reference is made to a symbolic "Blowing the First Note" ceremony as is supposed to open the Festival; however, it is unknown if such a ritual exists.


  1. ^ "Elaine Lorillard; helped start Newport Jazz Festival". The Boston Globe. December 3, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-10. 
  2. ^ Associated Press (November 29, 2007). "Elaine Lorillard, jazz festival pioneer, dies". Newsday.,0,3551368.story. Retrieved 2007-12-10. [dead link]
  3. ^ "Newport Jazz Festival". Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  4. ^ Wein, George; Chinen, Nate; Cosby, Bill. Myself Among Others. Da Capo Press. pp. 140. ISBN 0-306-81352-1. 
  5. ^ a b "Newport Jazz Festival". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  6. ^ Wein, George; Chinen, Nate; Cosby, Bill. Myself Among Others. Da Capo Press. pp. 145. ISBN 0-306-81352-1. 
  7. ^ "Newport Blues". Time (magazine). 1960-07-18.,9171,869615,00.html. 
  8. ^ Ben Ratliff (2004-08-17). "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; 50 Years Later, Newport Swings With 'Real Jazz'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  9. ^ Avenengo, Charles. "Jazz Festival Golden Jubilee". Newport Harbor Guide - 2004. The Seamen's Church Institute. Retrieved 2009-01-05. [dead link]
  10. ^ Wein, George; Chinen, Nate; Cosby, Bill. Myself Among Others. Da Capo Press. pp. 215. ISBN 0-306-81352-1. 
  11. ^ Wein, George; Chinen, Nate; Cosby, Bill. Myself Among Others. Da Capo Press. pp. 247. ISBN 0-306-81352-1. 
  12. ^ Brennan, Matt (2006-03-24). "Was Newport 1969 the Altamont of Jazz? The role of music festivals in shaping the jazz-rock fusion debate". Leeds, UK. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  13. ^ "Led Zeppelin - Official Website". Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  14. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (2007-11-28). "Elaine Lorillard, 93, a Founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  15. ^ Ratliff, Ben (2005-06-14). "Singin' the Blues Before the JVC Jazz Festival". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  16. ^ "Newport in New York". Time (magazine). 1972-07-17.,9171,877885,00.html. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  17. ^ Wein, George; Chinen, Nate; Cosby, Bill. Myself Among Others. Da Capo Press. pp. 412. ISBN 0-306-81352-1. 
  18. ^ "George T. Wein Biography". Festival Productions Incorporated New Orleans. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  19. ^ Gennari, John (2006). Blowin' hot and cool: jazz and its critics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 246. ISBN 0-226-28922-2. 
  20. ^ Clendinen, Dudley (1981-08-24). "After a decade, prospering Newport celebrates the jazz festival's return". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  21. ^ Morton, John (2008-08-30). Backstory in Blue. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press. pp. 262. ISBN 978-0-8135-4282-9. 
  22. ^ Ratliff, Ben (2007-01-25). "George Wein Sells Company That Produces Music Festivals". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  23. ^ Massimo, Rick (2007-07-19). "Newport music festivals to serve beer and wine". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  • Schaap, Phil. Liner notes to Ellington at Newport (Complete), Columbia Records / Legacy C2K 64932, 1999 February.
  • Avakian, George. Liner notes to original release of Ellington at Newport, Columbia Records CL 934, 1956.
  • New York Times, "The news at Newport: Jazz is back in town", 1981 August 16. (link)
  • Storyville for DVD of Newport 1962 [1]

External links

Coordinates: 41°28′38″N 71°20′22″W / 41.47722°N 71.33944°W / 41.47722; -71.33944

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