Newport 50th Anniversary Celebration: A Preview

Victor L. Schermer By

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Jazz facilitated the change from art as an expression of social class to art as a "class act" that could also generate the thrills that made its riches available to all.
To our readers: All About Jazz is planning extensive coverage of the Newport Jazz Festival Festival: August 11th through August 15, 2004. As have the first Newport event in 1954 and many of the annual concerts since, this 50th Anniversary Event represents a landmark in the history of jazz and will include a litany of outstanding groups and soloists on three stages, Saturday and Sunday, August 14th and 15th. There will also be evening events held on August 11- 13. A full listing of events and performers, as well as other useful information for those who plan to attend, is provided at their Website .
If you do attend this year's event or have attended past Newport Festivals, All About Jazz welcomes your comments at our Bulletin Board.
Now, to an overview of this year's Festival followed by a few thoughts about the historical significance of jazz festivals and Newport in particular.

Highlights Of The Fiftieth Anniversary Newport Festival
This year, the Festival appropriately emphasizes events dedicated to some of the great jazz artists and groups who appeared during the early days of Newport, and whose legacy will last forever. Also included, however, are the musicians who are an integral part of today's jazz scene. In some cases, past reminiscences and contemporary contributions merge rather seamlessly.

Among the groups evoking intense reminiscences of the early days of the Festival are updated versions of the following:

The Dave Brubeck Quartet; The John Faddis Orchestra saluting Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and others; The Count Basie Orchestra; a solo performance by Chico Hamilton; John Coltrane Remembered featuring Ravi Coltrane and McCoy Tyner; Monk's Dream; Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Company; The Ornette Coleman Quartet; The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra Saluting Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk, and Louis Armstrong; The Mingus Big Band, and The Heath Brothers. Among the personnel in these groups are some of the great sidemen and soloists in the business, including Clark Terry, Lewis Nash, Phil Woods, Cedar Walton, James Moody, and Roy Hargrove. The list of "hall of famers" grows too numerous to mention all. This is truly an "all-star cast," promising a weekend of musical excitement, reminiscences, reunions, and -yes- fun!

The fun may be highlighted by the appearance of comedian Bill Cosby in the role of band leader. "Cos" is a musician of some accomplishment, and has done much to advance the cause of jazz.

A perhaps more contemporary focus can be expected to be provided by groups led by Branford Marsalis, Jamie Cullum, Lew Tabackin, Dave Douglas, and others.

A special feature of the Festival will be a "Piano Stage," featuring many of the top pianists in the business. Among my own favorites will be host Marian McPartland, Uri Caine, Mulgrew Miller, and Renee Rosnes.

It can be expected that fans, musicians, and press from around the world will be in attendance.

The Significance Of Festivals In The History Of Jazz

The well-known real estate slogan about the importance of "Location! Location! Location!" applies equally well to jazz. As we know, jazz had its origins in New Orleans and soon migrated to the Midwest and Chicago, and then around the country, to Europe, and, in time, to Asia. In the early days, its venues shifted from local events such as Mardi Gras and funerals to various theaters, with an emphasis on entertainment. In the Swing Era, ballroom dances, as well as the entertainment of World War II troops, became the chief settings for the emerging big bands. College tours also became frequent. With the advent of bebop and modern jazz, the small clubs increasingly provided arenas for the evolving small groups. Those along 52nd Street and in Harlem in New York City, for example, were hotbeds of creativity.

With Norman Granz' Jazz at the Philharmonic series in Los Angeles, the showcasing of multiple groups and performers in a single concert evolved. To allow for even larger audiences, outdoor events were established. As early as 1938, Randall's Island featured a concert with Duke Ellington and his orchestra, and, by the 1950's, the Monterrey and Newport Festivals became hallmarks of summertime jazz festivals held around the world. Through such events, many musicians who were at the forefront of jazz creativity, yet somewhat isolated in cults of the initiated, became known to a wider public, joining the ranks of the "traditionalists" like Louis Armstrong in terms of popularity and media recognition.


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