Saturday, August 17, 2013

Newport Jazz Festival 2014 - Consider the numbers with care

The main stage crowd, 2013
Be wary of some of the touted numbers leading up to, during and after next year’s edition of the Newport Jazz Festival. You’re likely to read a lot of conflicting and confusing figures.

Here’s why: 

2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the first festival, then called the American Jazz Festival, which was held July 17 and 18, 1954 at historic Newport Casino. It opened to the strains of Eddie Condon’s Dixieland band playing “Muskrat Ramble.”
But the 2014 event won't be the 60th edition of the festival, just as this year's was not the 59th. Next August 1-2-3 will mark the 50th edition of the Newport Jazz Festival to be held in Newport.  

The explanation is very simple.

George Wein
The festival fled its coastal Rhode Island home after a riot by gate-crashing rowdies in 1971. Producer George Wein moved the event to the Big Apple (calling it the Newport Jazz Festival-New York). But he returned to Newport in 1981 after it was clear the hooligan days were over. 

Wein wanted to cement the Newport-jazz legacy and preserve the Newport Jazz Festival name in the city by the sea where it all began. 

[From 1972 through 1980, there was a nine-year gap between festivals. There was another dark year in 1961 after a smaller-scale disturbance marred the 1960 event. (In 1961, another festival billed as "Music at Newport" was produced by Sid Bernstein with support from some local businessmen.) And that’s why, no matter what you may read elsewhere, 60 is really 50.] 

Numbers aside, Newport’s importance to the music world remains clear in terms of its impact and visibility.  

It is the granddaddy of all U.S. jazz festivals and was a model for similar music events that followed across the U.S. and around the world (Montreal, Monterey, New Orleans, etc., etc., etc. Founding producer Wein’s other prime innovation was in lining up corporate title sponsorships that removed some of the financial risk in mounting these sorts of events. Now the practice is commonplace for entertainment – and sports.

The current Newport Jazz Festival sponsor is Natixis Global Asset Management.


  1. Yes, Ken. The 1961 Newport Festival was also memorable for the fact that Sid Bernstein ran it that year and presented Judy Garland at an afternoon concert. I remember she was somewhat dismayed because she could see some of the audience moving around and she asked most politely if they could just sit still. 1961 also marked my debut as a "New Star", and subsequent Columbia Records contract.
    Cherished memories, most assuredly.
    -Carol Sloane

  2. Ahh, I guess the maths and history does make sense. I've changed the 2014 festival listing at Festival Archive (, thanks for the post, it probably saved me responding to a few emails ;-)

    All the best, Paul

  3. the police incited the riot in 1971 { I was there in 1969 and 1971 } Wein asked the chief of police how much money in overtime would it cost too clear the people off the hill they weren't bothering anybody and he didn't like it that residents could go to the supermarket in back of the stage in their own town so the cops throwing tear gas incited the riot they tried to blame it on rock groups but there weren't any Dave Brubeck is not a rock act .