Be There or Be Square: The Newport Jazz Festival

Chick Corea performing at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival. Photo credit: Douglas Mason

Chick Corea performing at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival. Photo credit: Douglas Mason

Like many other types of music throughout history, jazz -- now recognized as a legitimate art form -- was once marginalized as a form of rebellion. Here in Newport, we’re happy to have played our part in facilitating its transition to mainstream music genre through the iconic Newport Jazz Fest. Whether you’re a longtime jazz lover or just starting to discover the allures of this uniquely American music style, this year’s Newport Jazz Fest scheduled for July 29-July 31st at Fort Adams is a must attend event.

Revolution and Evolution

Originally dubbed the Annual American Jazz Festival, Newport’s inaugural go at making the case for jazz was held in 1954, and included performances by artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby Hackett, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, and Lennie Tristano. The next year, even more artists arrived on the scene, including everyone from Miles Davis to Thelonious Monk, not to mention Gerry Mulligan, Count Basie Orchestra, Woody Herman Orchestra, Dave Brubeck, Dinah Washington, and the Louis Armstrong All Stars.

And while Newport’s own well-to-do denizens pushed back on what they viewed as an invasion of their upper-class environs, Madison Avenue jetsetters were drawn to the promise of so many musical luminaries in one place, and made Newport their destination. And so the festival continued to grow, with Duke Ellington himself declaring, “I was born at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 7, 1956."

Riots, Revival and Rebirth

Evolution is a hallmark of growth, and the Newport Jazz Festival did just that -- integrating new musical genres, including gospel, rhythm and blues, and rock 'n' roll over the years. And while a few bumps in the road -- including rioting in 1960 which led to the penning of the Langston Hughes elegy ( "It's a gloomy day at Newport, / It's a gloomy, gloomy day. / It's a gloomy day at Newport, / The music's going away." ) and a one-year hiatus in 1961 -- are part of its dynamic history, so is resilience.

The festival returned in 1962 and the show has gone on in various incarnations since -- both in Newport and on other stages including everywhere from New York City to the White House, where Bill Clinton proclaimed on the festival’s 40th anniversary in 1993, “No event has done more to nurture the careers of jazz artists; non has done more to thrill and delight jazz fans. The festival’s influence has been truly profound, inspiring more than 2,000 other jazz festivals every year around the world.”

Angelique Kidjo performing at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival. Photo credit: Ayano Hisa

Angelique Kidjo performing at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival. Photo credit: Ayano Hisa

Today, the Newport Music Festival continues to pay homage to the rich roots of jazz while simultaneously embracing new talent, as evidenced by this year’s lineup of diverse artists, including Norah Jones, Chick Corea, Nels Cline, Gregory Porter, Kamasi Washington, and countless others.

And while we’re loath to toot our own horn -- or saxophone or trumpet, as the case may be -- we stand behind the assertion that there’s no more apropos application of the phrase, “Be there or be square,” than the Newport Jazz Festival. Get your tickets today.