Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Newport Jazz Festival: RI's Historical Improvisation for Jazz Appreciation

Joe Lovano, Newport Jazz Festival, 7/14/05Joe Lovano, Newport Jazz Festival, 2005 - Image via WikipediaBy Eva Pasco

Jazz has been an integral part of African-American culture for over one hundred years. Its strong rhythmic understructure, bit o' the blues, solos, call-and-response patterns, and melodic improvisation bequeath this musical genre with a built-in sexiness or sax appeal!

No surprise, early jazzmen said "to jazz" was to fornicate. Trumpeting a higher note, many literary scholars argue the term originated with Chaucer and Shakespeare. However, musician and songwriter, Clarence Williams, declared he was the first to use the word "jazz" in a song.

Before Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday defined jazz on their own terms, the genre's roots can be traced back to slavery on southern plantations. According to "The History of Jazz": To keep up a productive rhythm in the fields, spiritual work songs were created in the style of "call-and-response" where a song leader would call out a line, and the workers would respond to the call.

At the turn of the 20th century, the spiciness of New Orleans homogenized blues, ragtime, and marching band to a style of music formally called "jazz." As African-Americans migrated to northern cities such as Chicago and New York during the Roaring Twenties, jazz took root and sprouted mightily through the 50s until rock n' roll ruled. The Civil Rights movement of the 60s influenced black jazz artists to take greater control over their music, predisposing the genre to reinvent itself which brings us to the origin of jazz appreciation in Rhode Island.

The state of Rhode Island's historical improvisation for jazz appreciation resulted in the establishment of the Newport Jazz Festival, a noteworthy event featuring famous artists from the jazz scene, currently held every August as a three day event at Fort Adams State Park in Newport. The Festival's coming to fruition as a cherished institution on Rhode Island soil is tinged with a bit o' the blues:

History of the Newport Jazz Festival

In 1954, socialite Elaine Lorillard and her husband established the Newport Jazz Festival, billed as the "First Annual American Jazz Festival," held at the Newport Casino of Newport, Rhode Island. The first event featured academic panel discussions and live musical entertainment on the lawns of the Casino, graced with performances by jazz greats. Over the course of two days 11,000 enthusiasts attended the event, whereby major newspapers hailed the festival as a success.

The following year the Casino opted not to host the festival because its lawn and other facilities did not hold up well to the magnitude of such an event. The Lorillards then purchased Belcourt, a large estate built during the Gilded Age, so the show could go on. The neighborhood wasn't too keen on the idea, foreseeing public disturbances.

To put it bluntly, Newport's established upper crust opposed the festival for lack of jazz appreciation, whereas younger members of the elite participated in organizing it, attracting hordes of commoners to the city. Traffic congestion became a big concern. Sufficient lodging not forthcoming, many camped outdoors with or without tents. Since many of the musicians and fans were of African-American descent, racism also factored heavily in the denunciation of future jazz events. Nevertheless, with a little improvisation, the 1955 festival was held at Freebody Park, while workshops and receptions were held at Belcourt.

1956: Duke Ellington performed "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue"

1957: Performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Carmen McCrae were incorporated in an album released in 1958 - "Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday at Newport"

1958: Sets by Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, and Miles Davis appeared on subsequent albums - "Newport 1958," "Ray Charles at Newport," and "At Newport 1958"

1960: Performances by Muddy Waters and Nina Simone were released as albums entitled - "At Newport 1960" and "Nina Simone at Newport." That same year the National Guard was called in to quell unruly spectators, so the Newport Jazz Festival was not allowed to happen in 1961. Improvisation procured a replacement billed as "Music at Newport," though it proved unsuccessful.

1962: The festival resumed at Freebody Park. George Wein, an astute businessman hitherto associated with fest ventures, took over the not-for-profit organizational venue, and incorporated the festival as an independent business venture of his own. This festival was documented in a film whose performers include Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan, the Oscar Peterson Trio, Roland Kirk, Duke Ellington, and the Count Basie Orchestra.

1964: Jazz appreciation had outgrown Freebody Park. Wein hosted the 1965 event at Festival Field where Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra, played the joint, causing attendance to soar. "Let's fly, let's fly."

1969: A year that will live in infamy, the fest was an experiment in fusing jazz, soul, and rock. Excess crowds with thousands unable to get tickets resulted in major disturbances. In 1971, more of the same ensued as the location could not accommodate all attendees.

1972: Jazz left Rhode Island when Wein decided to move the festival to New York City, renaming it, "Newport Jazz Festival-New York." This gala production consisted of 30 concerts with 62 performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, and Roberta Flack. Though successful, Wein missed the outdoor aspect.

1981: Wein brought the Newport Jazz Festival back to Newport, this time to Fort Adams State Park. Its seaside location afforded a free view of the event to yachtsmen. A daytime-only, alcohol-free format was adopted, and till this day - three stages are used.

Today, Newport trumpets a different tune from its earlier disdain, quite receptive to the continuance of the Newport Jazz Festival in its own backyard as a boost to tourism. In 2007, Wein sold his Festival Productions Company in a merge with producer, Shoreline Media. He took over the reins again in 2009.

"Come fly with me where there's a one man band to toot his flute for you" so to speak, and check the artist lineup of performers scheduled for three days each August at the Newport Jazz Festival website. Meanwhile, residential and out-of-state jazz enthusiasts can enjoy the musical genre of jazz and live performances all year round at the following establishments:

Aspire Restaurant (311 Westminster St., Providence): Considered the capital city's latest hot spot and A-bar, Aspire was the recipient of RI Monthly's 2008 "Best Restaurant and Lounge." Live jazz is featured every Friday night.

Bovi's Tavern (287 Taunton Ave., East Providence): Established in 1947, Bovi's has been the place to come and listen to jazz. Every Monday night, the John Allmark 16 piece jazz band is featured. Live bands perform every Friday and Saturday night.

Chan's Fine Oriental Dining (267 Main St., Woonsocket): "Home of Eggroll, Jazz, and Blues," Chan's has been a RI and national institution since 1905. Its 150 seat Four Seasons Jazz and Blues Club continues to host some of the finest local and international artists, earning a reputation as one of the premier jazz and blues clubs in the country.

Two Jerks Pub and Grill (336 Waterman Ave., East Providence): Every Wednesday night the pub hosts one of the area's best jazz jams.

Jazz continues to evolve and pulsate through its structural elements of rhythm, blues, solos, call-and-response patterns, and above all-melodic improvisation. Rhode Island's Newport Jazz Festival continues to evolve as a cherished institution through improvisational planning to attract great musicians, while accommodating an ever expanding fan base who dig all that jazz.

From its inception in 1954 until the present, numerous masterpieces performed live at the Festival have been preserved in documentary films, albums, or CDs. Whether or not you're able to attend the three day event held annually at Fort Adams State Park-you can improvise by listening to Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie or perchance Ray Charles playing alto sax for "The Spirit-Feel" (1958), preserved as a Festival blues print, for enjoyment within the confines of home sweet home.

Eva Pasco - Author

A Midlife Journey of Self-Discovery: Winding past Rhode Island's affluent coastal communities, prominent landmarks, cherished institutions, and olive oil spills of the underworld.

FREE EXCERPT (Chapters 1-3)/Convenient Ordering: eBook or Print

Article Source:
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment