Be in High Society

JVC Jazz Festival, Newport, Rhode Island With the benefit of a half-century's hindsight, it seems almost inevitable. Yet as the "First American Jazz Festival" came roaring into the Newport Tennis Casino on a mid-July weekend in 1954, the now-venerable event was anything but a sure bet. A brainchild of Boston nightclub owner George Wein and Newport socialites Louis and Elaine Lorillard, the festival gathered a massive and motley group of jazz musicians and enthusiasts together in the summer playground of America's aristocratic class. Its extraordinary debut was both a shot across the bow of high culture and a shot in the arm of the jazz world. More than a merely successful enterprise, the Newport Jazz Festival "opened a new era in jazz presentation," in the prophetic words of Down Beat magazine. Over the next five decades, history was made repeatedly at Newport, in moments great and small. Miles Davis revived a flagging career there in 1955, as did Duke Ellington the following year. And virtually everyone else in jazz -- from Billie Holiday to Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal to Archie Shepp -- came to grace the Newport stage, reaching some of the largest and most receptive audiences of the era. At the heart of it all was a conviction articulated early on by Wein. "We want to throw modern, swing, and Dixieland together," he told the New Yorker in 1954, "even have the guys playing them together. As long as there's a common beat, every guy can play solo [in] his own style. One big happy family."Wein and his company Festival Productions, Inc. have continued to abide by this credo -- despite a shifting musical terrain, the ebb and tide of festival fortunes, and innumerable reports of jazz's obsolescence. Their flagship event, originally founded as a nonprofit venture, came under Wein's sole proprietorship after a riot outside the gates shut the 1960 festival down. Peaceful and prosperous during the '60s, Wein's institution spawned a counterpart -- the emblematic Newport Folk Festival -- before encountering marauders once more in 1971. That incident prompted Wein to transport the event to New York City, where an urban, multiple-venue festival model was born. With title sponsorship from KOOL, then JVC, the Newport Jazz Festival New York reigned through the '70s. In 1981 it returned to its origins without abandoning its cosmopolitan foothold. Today Festival Productions mounts JVC Jazz Festivals both in Newport and in New York, along with a host of satellite cities. From an event "fashioned out of orange crates and baling wire," as critic Whitney Balliett once colorfully recalled, the Newport Jazz Festival has evolved into an institution of immeasurable influence and international reach. Schedule - August 11 - 13, 2006 Friday, August 11th | John Pizzarelli Big Band - "Dear Mr. Sinatra" || Jane Monheit | Saturday, August 12th | George Benson | | Al Jarreau | | McCoy Tyner Septet Celebrating Impulse! Records- with Donald Harrison, Steve Turre, Wallace Roney, Charnett Moffett, Eric Gravatt & tenor sax tba | | Arturo Sandoval | | Robert Glasper Trio | | Preservation Hall Jazz Band | | Luciana Souza Brazilian Duos- featuring Romero Lubambo | | Raúl Midón | | Cyrus Chestnut Quartet- featuring Eric Alexander | | Gold Sounds - featuring Cyrus Chestnut, James Carter, Reginald Veal & Ali Jackson performing the music of Pavement | | Marc Ribot- solo guitar | | Jenny Scheinman- with Jason Moran, Jim Black & Matt Penman | | Sarah Morrow Quartet | Sunday, August 13th | Chris Botti | | Dave Brubeck Quartet | | Dr. John & The Lower 911 | | Angelique Kidjo | | Savion Glover & The Otherz | | The Bad Plus | | George Wein & the Newport All Stars- with Howard Alden, Randy Sandke, Lew Tabackin, Frank Wess, Peter Washington & Kenny Washington | | James Carter Organ Trio- featuring Gerard Gibbs & Leonard King | | Avishai Cohen Trio | | Hiromi | | Ron Affif Trio | | Eddie Palmieri/Brian Lynch Duo | | Marty Ehrlich Sextet | | Andy Bey Quartet | | Christian Scott Quartet | Add your suggestions for Things You Should Do in Rhode Island by clicking on the comments button.

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