The Newport Jazz Festival
Listen to jazz in a legendary setting
In the early 1950s, tobacco heir Louis Lorillard and his wife, Elaine, were looking for something new to do during the long, lazy summers in Newport. One night they found themselves sitting in a Boston jazz club called Storyville, chatting with young club owner and pianist George Wein. They liked what they heard, and a year later, with Wein providing the organisational skills and the Lorillards providing a line of credit, the Newport Jazz Festival was born.
That first year, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Lennie Tristano performed, among others. Miles Davis appeared the following year, turning in a performance that launched one of the most legendary periods of his career. Duke Ellington did the same in 1956, finishing his set with a medley that brought down the house and set hundreds of audience members dancing and leaping on to their chairs.
Newport changed the standard method of jazz presentation, giving jazzmen the opportunity to play before huge, appreciative crowds. By the late 1960s, the festival had begun booking rock and R&B acts, which changed its character so much that founder Wein pulled the plug in 1971. For the next ten years, he took his festival around the world, but in 1981 it returned to Newport with a renewed focus on the music that had made it famous. Today, it still attracts the biggest names in jazz each August—McCoy Tyner, Joe Lovano, Chick Corea, Carla Bley, Bill Frisell and Wynton Marsalis among them.
Other festivals round out Newport’s summer calendar. The Newport Folk Festival, another Wein brainchild, was first presented in 1959 and has seen many historic performances, including Bob Dylan’s notorious ‘Dylan Goes Electric’ set in 1965. Held over three days in early August, the Folk Festival attracts the likes of Richard Thompson, Nanci Griffith, Arlo Guthrie, Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris. The Newport Music Festival, which takes place over three weeks in July, presents more than 60 classical recitals and chamber music programmes in Newport’s spectacular 19th-century ‘cottages’, bringing those days of the Gilded Age back to life.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.