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Newport Jazz Festival turns 60 this year with a seminar and film screening

The Woody Herman Orchestra at the 1955 Newport Jazz Fest at Freebody Park. (Courtesy of Newport Festivals Foundation/Courtesy of Newport Festivals Foundation)

The National Archives takes note of the 60th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival with a seminar and film screening Thursday as part of its year-long “Jazz at the National Archives” program. Broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien moderates a panel discussion with Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein, critic Dan Morgenstern, and musicians Christian McBride and Jonathan Batiste on the legacy of the event that continues again this summer. But what has become a most pleasant summer tradition in Rhode Island had a somewhat rocky start. Let’s count it down.


Given to 28-year-old jazz fan George Wein by socialites Elaine and Louis Lorillard to put on the first jazz fest in Newport in 1954, at the Newport Casino.


Attendance at the first year of the festival with performances by stars such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Gerry Mulligan.


Saxophonist Paul Gonsalves makes his name with a standout 27-chorus, seven-minute solo during of “Diminuendo/Crescendo in Blue” during the performance by Duke Ellington, who also unveiled a new work there entitled “Newport Jazz Festival Suite.”


Arrests in 1960 after what one newspaper called the “Beer Riot” at the jazz festival, blaming the melee on “roving, drinking teenagers.” The Marines and National Guard were called out and the second day of the festival was cancelled.


Days of the festival in 1961. It returned the following year.


Estimated on hand, including 5,000 gatecrashers for a Saturday show in 1969 that included the Mothers of Invention, Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck, culminating with Sly and the Family Stone.

Minutes, the length of Miles Davis’ set in 1969, in which he introduced songs such as “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” that he would record a month later in the career-changing “Bitches Brew.”


Estimated attendees for Led Zeppelin’s fest-closing set in 1969. Half the audience had gone home when it was announced the band’s set was cancelled, fearing it would be overrun by gatecrashers. The band played its seven-song set anyway.


Lowest one-day ticket price in 1969.


Lowest one-day ticket price in 2014.


Estimated number of albums recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival, from artists including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.


Age of festival founder George Wein, still at the helm.


Amid a lineup that includes Wynton Marsalis, David Sanborn, Ron Carter, Dr. John and John Zorn, the lone musician scheduled this summer who also performed at the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 is saxophonist Lee Konitz.

Jazz in the USA: On the 60th Anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival

Panel discussion with George Wein, Dan Morgenstern, Jonathan Batiste and Christian McBride, moderated by Soledad O’Brien at the National Archives Thursday at 7 p.m. Free. Doors open 45 minutes prior to the event’s start, on Constitution Avenue. A screening of the film “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, is scheduled at noon Thursday. Call 202-357-5000 or visit

The Newport Jazz Festival

Aug. 1-3 at Ft. Adams State Park, Newport, R.I. Call 401-848-5055 or visit

Catlin is a freelance writer.



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