Newport Jazz Festival: 61st Annual Preview

Last year marked a milestone as the revered Newport Jazz Festival turned 60, cementing its place in the realm of music festivals. The 60th anniversary even added a third music-filled day, something they’re repeating this year. Since 1954, the Newport Jazz Festival, aka “America’s First Annual Jazz Festival,” has seen and heard thousands of notable jazz musicians: Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington … and the list goes on.

Originating in New Orleans African-American communities, jazz is at the tippy top of the list of America’s greatest contributions to the art world. The Newport Jazz Festival played an interesting role in global acceptance and mainstream appeal of jazz music. It began when Newport socialites Elaine and Louis Lorillard felt some excitement was missing from their lives of luxury. Enter George Wein, then owner of a Boston jazz club called Storyville. The Lorillards and Wein were introduced, he suggested a healthy dose of jazz to cure their boredom and Wein was hired to organize the festival.

Sixty-one years later, George Wein is just as much a legend as his festivals (did I mention he also co-founded the Newport Folk Festival in ‘59?). Pro tip: Jazz and folk festival artists will be in attendance to celebrate Wein’s 90th birthday, his life and contributions to the music world at the Newport Festivals Gala on August 1 at The Breakers.

Featuring over 40 of the world’s greatest established artists and emerging artists in jazz, this year’s lineup consists of traditional, contemporary and innovative orchestras, quartets, quintets, octets, ensembles and a swarm of the most notable jazz acts to date. Wein is also bringing Storyville to Newport, transporting that undeniable jazz club atmosphere to a new stage, with intimate seating for 100 guests. Intimate performances are unheard of at music festivals where mammoth size tends to prevent that. Storyville hopes to change this; it’s likely to be a crowd-pleaser. Three full days of music, four stages and two locations may make this year’s Jazz Festival the biggest yet.

The Kick-Off Cocktail Party will be at the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Friday. Featuring performances by Chris Botti (2014 Grammy-winner for “Best Pop Instrumental Album”) and Jon Batiste & Stay Human (future CBS LateNight bandleader and an endless list of credentials and awards).

Fort Adams State Park will be the main locale of festival events and performances. Booked to perform this season are Snarky Puppy, who seamlessly fuse a deep knowledge and respect for musical tradition with innovation; they groove like there’s no tomorrow. Jon Batiste & Stay Human, mentioned earlier, will be making history by performing four Newport Festival sets in one week, a Festival first! Dr. John and the Night Trippers, who canceled their scheduled appearance last year due to illness, will be bringing his unique blend of voodoo mysticism, funk, rhythm & blues, psychedelic rock and Creole roots back to Newport. Cassandra Wilson is an American jazz musician, incorporating blues, country and folk music into her work. She will be celebrating Billie Holiday at this year’s fest. Of the 40-plus performers listed in the line-up, 19 are making their Newport debut.

The Storyville stage will host intimate piano sets and conversations with artists. Ashley Kahn, a Grammy-winning author, educator, music journalist and concert producer, will take to the stage to host a Miles Davis Talk. This year’s fest is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Davis’ first performance at Newport in ‘55. There will also be a playback of music from the new Columbia/Legacy Recordings box set Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol.4.

Navigating this year’s festival will be easier than ever with the new app, “Newport Jazz.” Available in the iTunes app store and free to download, this will be your tour guide through the fest. It includes performance schedules, artist profiles, a festival map and the option to create a customized schedule — an itinerary of sorts. These festival apps are wonderfully helpful, easy to use and take away the stress of staying on top of the whos, whats and wheres of festival traversing.

For more information on the Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Global Asset Management, go to or

Get excited for this year’s festival by checking out some pics from last year. Photos by Richard McCaffrey.


Bobby McFerrin Cecile McLorin Darcy James Band David sanborn 2 David Sanchez Band George Weins Newport All Stars 2 George Weins Newport All Stars Gregory Porter Band Jon Batiste and Stay human 2 Jon Batiste and Stay human 4 Lee Konits & GraceKelly 2 Miguel Zenon Band Ravi coltrane SF Jazz Collective 2 The Cookers URI Jazz Big Band Band Vince Giordano & Nighthawks Wynton Marsalis 2



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