The history of the Newport Jazz Festival can be found in the recently published autobiography of its founder, George Wein: Myself Among Others - A Life in Music. Wein, who is also a highly talented pianist, began promoting and producing jazz at his Boston jazz club Storyville in 1950. Artists of all styles of jazz performed at Storyville, including Bob Wilbur, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy McPartland, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Charlie Mingus, and Charlie Parker.
In 1953, Wein was approached by Elaine Lorillard about bringing jazz to Newport, Rhode Island, during the summer months. (Elaine's husband Louis was a descendant of the tobacco tycoon Pierre J. Lorillard.) This initial get-together of Lorrilard and Wein instigated the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954.
A number of historic events have occurred at Newport Jazz Festivals. In 1955, Miles Davis was scheduled to perform as part of an all-star band including Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan. At that time Miles was little-known except to musicians and diehard bebop-jazz fans. As a result of being featured on Thelonious Monk's classic Round Midnight, Miles became the star of the festival and greatly impressed the jazz critics and writers.
In 1956, the Duke Ellington Orchestra had reached a low point in its popularity. Backstage prior to a Newport Jazz Festival performance, Duke went over some of the tunes to be played with the musicians. When he mentioned "Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue," tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves asked, "That's the one I blow?" Duke answered, "Yes, and don't stop until I tell you." During the Ellington set, it finally came time for the Gonsalves feature. As Paul performed chorus after chorus, fans began dancing in front of the stage and in the aisles. By the time Paul finished his 27 choruses, 7,000 fans were standing and cheering wildly. Duke Ellington was back in the limelight again. The two-CD album Ellington at Newport, 1956 is currently available at record stores.
In 1960, Wein decided to include blues bands at the Newport Jazz Festival and attempted to bring in Muddy Waters. Muddy had never heard of Newport and because of the fee, which he considered too low, he refused to consider the offer. However, Muddy's drummer, Rock Island-born and -bred Francis Clay, explained to Muddy that this would give him the opportunity to perform before a large, predominantly white audience for the first time, which would do a lot for him, his career, and the band.
Muddy's Newport set went over big. When the band left the stage after "Get My Mojo Working," the crowd demanded an encore of the tune. A recording of that song would soon become a popular single for Muddy, and it would bring his first Grammy Award nomination. Chess would release the whole set on the now-legendary Muddy Waters at Newport 1960.
George Wein went on to produce Newport Folk Festival, move the Newport Jazz Festival to New York, and help initiate the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival.
About 10 years ago George brought one of his Newport jazz all-star bands to Augustana College's Centennial Hall in Rock Island. The band put on a fine performance, and I can still remember the names of all the musicians: Wein on piano, Lew Tabackin on tenor saxophone and flute, Warren Vaché on cornet, Dennis Irwin on bass, and Al Harewood on drums.
The Newport Jazz 50th Anniversary Tour is scheduled for the Adler Theatre in Davenport on Monday, February 23, starting at 8 p.m. Tickets sell for $33, $27, and $22.
About the Performers
Saxophonist and flutist James Moody was born in 1925 and spent time with Dizzy Gillespie following his discharge from the Air Force in 1946, and later toured and recorded with Gillespie (1963-71). He led his own band from 1951 to 1962, which for 10 months included legendary baritone saxophonist Pat Patrick of East Moline.
Pianist and composer Cedar Walton was born in 1934 and in the late 1950s and early '60s performed with the J.J. Johnson Quartet, Benny Golson/Art Farmer Jazztet, and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. He played as a sideman on many records on Prestige and Blue note in the '60s, including recordings with Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Blue Mitchell, and Freddie Hubbard.
Multi-reedist James Carter was born in 1969 to a musical family and studied under the legendary Donald Washington. He has toured and recorded with Lester Bowie's New York Organ Ensemble, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Mingus Dynasty, and Julius Hemphill.
Trumpeter Randy Brecker has performed with everybody from Blood, Sweat, & Tears to Janis Joplin to the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers, and with his brother Michael led the Brecker Brothers band from 1975 to 1981. He remains an in-demand studio musician.
Guitarist Howard Alden has performed with the Alden-Dan Barrett Quintet since 1985 and the Newport All-Stars since 1986.
Bassist Peter Washington worked with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers from 1986 to 1988 and has since toured and recorded with countless bands.
Drummer Lewis Nash has performed on dozens of albums and was called "the most talented drummer of his generation" by The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz.