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Various Artists

Happy Birthday Newport: 50 Swinging Years!

(Legacy; US: 15 Jun 2004; UK: Available as import)

Jazz in July -- GW

I’ve not read George Wein’s “memoir”, Myself Among Others (Da Capo Press, 2003).but know that in 1954 he founded the Newport Jazz Festival. Through the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day and various other forms of publicity, this helped rescue jazz from some false assumptions as to quite what the music was, and also presumably forestalled the music’s annihilation. Jazz is of course now, as GW says, no longer unrespectable, though informed interest is too much the affair of a minority. The freedom of the advertiser has been the licence of the liar. An abiding cretinism states that if something’s really worthwhile it’ll be discovered and supported. The Hell it will, even with loving efforts like GW’s. A lesser and less determined man wouldn’t have quite what GW has to celebrate, but only the memory of only a past dream. The larger fringe public of 1960 caused riots in the little town of Newport, the festival nearly ended forever. Further explanations of why later there was a Newport in New York jazz festival may well be in GW’s book.


I’m not sure absolutely everything on this three-CD set was recorded live at either Newport or a relocated Newport Jazz Festival. Some certainly were; Newport, Rhode Island is stated as place of recording, and/or applause, et cetera, is audible. Perhaps the final state of packaging will tell all, with its photographs (not shown to reviewers who get sent plain promo CDs).


We’re dealing with GW’s own choice as a sort of supplementary memoir, drawn from at least Chess and Verve as well as Columbia. Only the fascinating Miles Davis with Thelonious Monk title is noted as hitherto unissued. There’s almost no information as to where, when, or whether other items here (or the sets they came from) might have been buyable on vinyl or CD. Some things included are easily located (one extremely famous), but was any of Willie “the Lion” Smith’s Newport set ever available in any retail outlet? The Lion played Newport on merit, not fame, a genuine creative original. Louis Armstrong had name and genius, but not the technique to save lip and lungs from the perils of trumpet-playing, He has three selections: a routine but fearsomely driving 1956 “Tin Roof Blues” because of GW’s personal associations with the tune, and “Mack the Knife” (both with his standard touring group of the day). He’s also with an international youth big band including now distinguished veterans. The Eddie Condon group’s “Bye and Bye” from the day before the Armstrong group set has Wild Bill Davison’s cornet and plenty of the fire which signaled its Chicago style. More refined was GW’s own 1958 group with Roy Haynes on drums, the not much older Ruby Braff on trumpet, Bud Freeman (also with Condon) on tenor.


Louis and the baby big band played on the day of the legendary long Ellington performance (included here) of “Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue”. One year later to the day the 1957 Basie Band did a decent “One O’Clock Jump” with guests Roy Eldridge on trumpet, the most original Basie original Lester Young on tenor, Jo Jones drums, and Illinois Jacquet on tenor at length. Respectable and atmospheric. The breezy “Tiger in Your Tank” by Muddy Waters breezes along on what might have been the tragic last day of any Newport Jazzfest, 44 years ago.


Disc Two opens with Coleman Hawkins in a Buck Clayton All-Stars (1956) with J.J. Johnson on trombone. Gus Johnson was a great drummer, Dick Katz the complete jazz pianist later in Clayton’s final and big band. Oscar Pettiford was a very great bassist (and jazz cellist) and before the bottle nobbled him Sonny Greer was Ellington’s initial and best ever drummer. Billy Strayhorn was Ellington’s alter ego, and these three here (1958) accompany Ben Webster’s tenor on Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge”. A great ballad performance. Five years later a “Newport ‘House’ Band” had long solos from the closely contemporary trumpet antitypes Clark Terry and Howard McGhee, the excellent straight mainstream piano of Joe Zawinul, Zoot Sims and Hawkins on tenor. It’s good to hear these men stretch out, and also (ten years and a day later) Eldridge, Al Grey on trombone, Lockjaw Davis tenor. Their distinguished piano and bass team of Tommy Flanagan and Keter Betts—with Joe Pass on guitar—turn up (1973) with Ella Fitzgerald on “Good Morning, Heartache”, a tribute to Billie Holiday prefaced by Ella’s commendation. Before you hear that you get Billie’s own “Lover, Come Back to Me”, the words fired with meaning. Ella tended rather to pronounce the words less dramatically, letting them speak for themselves as she phrased melody like a horn soloist. The sample of her with the exquisite Ellis Larkins as sole accompanist shows why all pianists should listen to Larkins. Dinah Washington on “Back Water Blues” has the more famous Wynton Kelly in trio.


Disc Three begins with the special “Round Midnight” never before issued and starring (at his own special request to be in the festival) Miles Davis with Thelonious Monk. It’s spontaneous and Wein reports that Davis later remarked that he and Monk were playing on different chords. They were doing something magical; this is a find.


Dick Katz was with J.J. Johnson again on July 6th, 1956, and Johnson’s long-time quintet co-leader the Scandinavian Kai Winding. Winding’s rougher style was an excellent foil to Johnson; J&K were a name band. Dizzy Gillespie was a great big band leader, and the large ensemble GW found him for the 1957 festival had many old colleagues besides Benny Golson on Golson’s “I Remember Clifford”. Deep. Dave Brubeck has apparently played more Newport festivals than anybody; he can hardly have bettered his 1958 quartet performance of Ellington’s “Jump for Joy” with his longtime partner Paul Desmond on alto. Sarah Vaughan’s well celebrated, and her pianist on “Black Coffee” is Jimmy Jones, of the unique harmonic sense and touch. He tended to get booked for studio dates by Ellington alumni and there’s a delightful trio set on French Vogue. GW wanted to stir interest in such people.


1958 was a year of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue band, which did “Fran Dance” at Newport. In 1963 GW added Pee Wee Russell’s clarinet to the Thelonious Monk Quartet for a couple of numbers. “Blue Monk” is here marking a desire to find new settings for the early modern almost beyond category music Pee Wee had been making in the 1930s. Two albums with Marshall Brown’s valve trombone, bass and drums, and another with Tommy Flanagan and Buck Clayton further represented the outing of Pee Wee’s radical modernity.


The penultimate title’s John Coltrane’s 1963 “My Favorite Things” with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and the great Roy Haynes replacing the (as I type) lately departed Elvin Jones. It’s long, it’s famous, it pre-announces a 2004 Newport Jazz Festival with a dedication to Coltrane. Will there be Freddie Hubbard, recovering now from evil lip problems? He’s in a quintet with the former four-fifths of a then only recently former (1976) Miles Davis Quartet (Williams, Carter, Shorter, Hancock. Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” looked forward and does still). Unlike every other track, it dates not from July but the end of June. July and more were yet to happen.


Pace ColumbiaLegacy, Newport’s not the Granddaddy of All Music Festivals.


Salzburg’s a lot older, Glyndebourne too. Both have interesting things in common with Newport, and maybe inspired it, for all that their respective musics differ. Newport’s certainly the Mother and Father of all Jazz Festivals, and the three-CD reminiscence kept to the first of its two quarter-centuries is a fascinating impression of the scope of jazz 25 to 35 years ago.


Jazz very much needs its festivals, which have been and ought to be celebrations of the music’s own identity. Well done, George Wein, who’s done far more than he could have done just as a pianist—a role in which he now excels and in which I hope he’ll also continue to be featured.

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