NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL CELEBRATES 50 YEARS
On the weekend of July 17 - 18, 1954, the first Newport Jazz Festival took place in that quaint town in Rhode Island, it was in fact also the first jazz festival held in North America. To commemorate its Golden Anniversary there will be a tour which will begin on January 17 and run through March 27. The first leg, the Northeast / Midwest section begins in Greenvale, N.Y. and closes on February 29 in Kansas City, Mo. On this end the players will be James Moody and James Carter on reeds, Randy Brecker, trumpet, Howard Alden, guitar, Cedar Walton, piano, Peter Washington, bass and Lewis Nash, drums and the good news for Montrealers is that they appear on Thursday, January 29, at the beautiful Flynn Theater in nearby Burlington, Vt.
The second or West Coast / Southwest part of the tour begins on March 7 in Santa Fe, NM and closes on March 27 in Olympia, WA. with a group consisting of the reeds of Lew Tabackin and Ken Peplowski, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, Alden, Washington, drummer Karriem Riggins and Lea DeLaria, described as a scat/blues and jazz vocalist.
In July of 1954, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, and other legendary players gathered in Newport, Rhode Island to headline the first American jazz festival--an event that would continue to present a pantheon of immortals alongside rising young stars for the next 50 years. Celebrating the festival's golden anniversary, virtuosi all-stars James Moody (saxophone), Cedar Walton (piano), Randy Brecker (trumpet), James Carter (saxophone), Howard Alden (guitar), Peter Washington (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums) carry on the spirit in a performance that includes a multimedia look at the history of this pivotal musical event.
This is part of promo for the Burlington concert and is presumed to have come from the tour organizers. Well, of the names listed on the first line, only Dizzy Gillespie was on hand at that 1954 event--someone didn't do their homework. I know this because I was there. Pat Sorrentino, who was among the founding members of the Montreal chapter of the New Jazz Society in 1950, and I Travelled down that weekend. It took three buses, Montreal to Boston, Boston to Providence and Providence to Newport--an all night trip that had us arriving the afternoon of Saturday, July 17th. I was 19 and working at the Bank of Toronto on the corner of St. Lawrence and Ontario and Pat, 22, was a recent civil engineering graduate from McGill about to embark on his first job--helping to build the St. Lawrence Seaway. Being somewhat naïve, we arrived without any hotel reservations only to find "The Viking", the main hotel, completely booked. Dragging our bodies around town we chanced upon "Angelo's Boulevard Motel" which not only had a room at a reasonable price, but was situated adjacent to the tennis courts on which that first festival was held. Some of the memories--hearing Lee Wiley for the very first time and becoming an immediate collector of her recordings, hearing Lennie Tristano "live" for the first time, ditto Billie Holiday, who was reunited with Lester Young and hearing my name called out and wondering who knew me in Rhode Island--it turned out to Red Mitchell, who had played a week at the Seville Theatre in Montreal [with Red Norvo and Jimmy Raney] the previous summer and who had spent an afternoon at my apartment with Sorrentino and I listening to records . Here's what we heard.
July 17, 1954
There was no big band featured year one but Stan Kenton was on hand as emcee and, after an introduction by Boston DJ John McClellan, he read a little history of jazz prepared by another Bostonian, Nat Hentoff. Then this historic event kicked off with "Muskrat Ramble" played by the Condon gang, Eddie brought along Wild Bill Davison, Lou McGarity and Peanuts Hucko, Ralph Sutton, Jack Lesberg and Cliff Leeman (hockey guru Stan Fischler's favourite drummer). They were later joined by the marvellous Lee Wiley, who instantly became one of my favourite singers. Billed as the Modern Jazz Quartet, but more a Milt Jackson Quartet, we then heard Milt, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke with Horace Silver on piano (John Lewis was busy elsewhere). Dizzy Gillespie then took the stage; this was outdoors with the audience sitting on folding chairs. John Birks had Hank Mobley, Wade Legge, Lou Hackney and Charli [then Charlie] Persip. Up next was another of our favourites, Lee Konitz, who we had heard in Montreal with the Kenton band and one who attended one of our Emanon Jazz Society meetings in the Mount Royal Hotel along with Kenton and Bill Russo. Lee had a quartet with Billy Bauer, Peter Ind and Jeff Morton. Montreal-born Oscar Peterson followed with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown and then came a Gerry Mulligan quartet with the great, unsung Tony Fruscella on trumpet, bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Frank Isola. John Lewis, Jimmy Woode and Shadow Wilson were joined by Ella Fitzgerald and then there was an all-star jam session conducted by Condon that had Kenton on piano, Dizzy, Bobby Hackett, Davison and Vic Dickenson handled the brass with Pee Wee Russell, Konitz and Mulligan, the reeds with a pair of Milts, "Bags" and Hinton and Jo Jones. The event, which began a little after 9pm ended just before one in the morning.
July 19, 1954
There was an afternoon panel discussion that we decided to skip in favour of doing a little tour of Newport including the Bluffs where Mingus held his "Rebels" Festival in 1960. We stopped in a bar for a taste and there encountered "Symphony" Sid Torin, the infamous DJ of the bebop era, then working out of Boston. Of yeah, it rained, thankfully stopping just before Pat and I and about 6,998 other fans entered the gates--I remember sitting on newspapers as there was no time for the organizers to wipe the water off all those seats. A Basie tribute kicked off the evening with Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown joined by Jo Jones, Buck Clayton, Dickenson and "Pres", Lester Young heard on music associated with the pride of Red Bank. The Peterson trio stayed on stage, later joined by guitarist Johnny Smith. A George Shearing Quintet including Jean ["Toots"] Thielemans and vibraphonist George Devens was next. The "New Faces In Jazz" group was that of reedman Gil Melle with Lou Mecca on guitar. Then a "mainstream" [I don't know if Stanley Dance had yet coined that phrase] group of Teddy Wilson, Hinton, Papa Jo, Bill Harris, Ruby Braff and Mulligan. Then a set Pat and I had been waiting for, Lennie Tristano with Warne Marsh, Konitz, Billy Bauer, Ind and Morton - a group that seemed way above the audience's heads. A gorgeous Billie Holiday took the stage backed by the Wilson-Hinton-Jones rhythm team and the horns of Buck Clayton and Vic Dickenson. Mulligan sauntered on stage unannounced and my guess is that Lester Young, who had not spoken to Lady Day in years, figured if that young whipper snapper can wander on stage so can I--it was one of those magic moments and a Gene Krupa trio with Teddy Napoleon and Eddie Shu that followed was somewhat of an anti-climax. It all ended outdoors at about 12:30 am. Pat and I wandered back to the motel (our bus trip began in reverse around 3 am) and shortly there after heard music wafting up from the basement--there we found a jam session that included Tristano, Marsh, Mulligan and Morton. During the course of this, Mulligan became unhappy with Morton's drumming and he, his main squeeze Gail Madden and her dog were all "barking" at Jeff at the same time--Lennie looked amused. Then it was time to RUN and catch the bus home.
A limited edition CD "Newport at 50: Happy Birthday, Baby!" comprising of "live" recordings from past festivals will be on sale at tour sites. Hope to see you all in Burlington on the 29th
In December an excellent concert by Francois Richard at Salle Gesu was followed by a fiery set at Upstairs lit by the trumpets of Kevin Dean and Charles Ellison. Members of the executive of the New Jazz / Emanon Jazz Society held their monthly reunion at Amazona on Cote St. Luc Road on the 15th, missing was Rene [Ron] Egli, the group's original secretary, he sadly died two days later. Pianist John Roney did a weekend at Upstairs with a trio of Zack Lober, [an outstanding and in demand bassist] and Jim Doxas that had Jim's brother Chet sitting in. On the 21st Dorothee Berryman spent the day recording a video of "La Vie de Cocagne", from the film "Jules et Jim". Christmas with family and friends was followed by music at Upstairs with a fine quartet led by Jean-Francois Groulx. Joe Lovano celebrated a birthday on the 29th and is quite excited about a new recording with Hank Jones, George Mraz and Paul Motian that should be out in April.
He's trying to sort out bookings, so Montreal is still a ? mark this summer. The New Year was brought in in great company at Upstairs where Diane Nalini entertained. January 3 marked the 27 anniversary of the death of guitarist Rene Thomas, a musician of great importance to the history of jazz in Montreal. On that subject a TV documentary that will include many of the surviving musicians from the 50s unward will be taped this year capped by a concert--April 22 at Salle Gesu is the probable date and locale.
JANUARY (+) EVENTS
It's been "women in jazz" at Upstairs so far this year beginning with a superb group led by Christine Jensen with Francois Theberge [winging in from Paris] followed by ex-Montreal resident, pianist-composer Louise Denson in from Brisbane, Australia with her bassist Helen Russell, Jim Doxas and [a reunion] Frank Lozano. A duo of Tena Palmer and Holly Arsenault appeared the next night. Daniel Lessard's group "Barocco" appears January 16-17 with a Joel Miller Quartet with Steve Amirault, Fraser Hollins and Michel Lambert set the following weekend with Janis Steprans due on the 25th, a Sunday. It looks like my favourite jazz singer Sheila Jordan will be at this location on February 27-28 and that another singer, Stevie Vallance, will be featured on Valentine's Day (both with bassist Kieran Overs).
Singer (and actress) Dorothee Berryman has a busy schedule beginning on January 24 when she appears at Salle Andre-Mathieu in Laval. In February she'll be at the Cabaret, on St. Laurent just south of Sherbrooke, from the 10th through Valentine's Day and she returns to that locale, March 2-6 and March 24, 26-27. In between she's in Quebec City on February 18-19, Rouyn on the 27th and Ville-Marie, the following day. For the Montreal appearances she be joined by pianist/music director Eric Harding, Jon Gearey, guitar, Dave Watts, bass, Camil Belisle, drums, Normand Bock, percussion and Jean St. Jacques, vibes. In Laval, Zack Lober will be the bassist and Alain Quirion will be on vibes on the other out of town events. On February 29th, keep your fingers crossed as "The Barbarian Invasions" is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category (Dorothee is "Louise" in the film). Her CD, "P.S. I Love You", is getting attention stateside with very favourable reactions coming from, among others, Sheila Jordan, Al Julian in Florida and Bruce Tater, who has a jazz show on a 100,000 watt station in Texas. She also stars in "Jack Paradise", a film based (in part) on the life of legendary Montreal jazz pianist Bob Langlois --it opens in February.
At the Flynn in Burlington, besides the Newport event, the trios of Bill Frisell with Tony Scherr and Kenny Wolleson and Brad Mehldau with Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy appear on January 17th with the Boston-based "Either/Orchestra" due on February 13. The Unitarian Church [5035 DeMaisonneuve W] presents Susie Arioli on January 24 in it's " Jazz and Justice Series". The "Jazz au Feminin" series at Salle Andre-Mathieu [475 Blvd. de l'Avenir] in Laval, besides Ms. Berryman, has "Suzie Arolie" (sic) on February 21 and Carole Welsman on March 28.
Voting is open in this year's National Jazz Awards poll--the voting booth can be found on the site: www.nationaljazzawards.com and I have been nominated in the "jazz broadcaster" category and thank the nominating committee for that honour.
Jazz is featured on a nightly basis in Montreal at Upstairs [1254 Mackay], Modavie, a restaurant at St. Paul and St. Laurent and at House of Jazz [2060 Aylmer].
© Len Dobbin 2003
Montreal, Quebec, Canada