Throughout its erratic history jazz music has been played and heard in many different settings. Jazz has made itself at home in riverboats, funeral marches, saloons, churches, furnished rooms and baseball parks. In recent times jazz musicians have most often worked in recording studios, concert halls, and nightclubs both boisterous and quiet. And, of course, at the Newport Jazz Festival and the crop of festivals that have sprung up in imitation of it.
Jazz fits in amidst virtually any surroundings because it is a primarily personal rather than primarily formal kind of music. There is another side to the coin: since jazz is based upon improvisation and the inspiration of the moment, the environment in which the musicians play is bound to affect their music. The hospital-room atmosphere of a recording studio can help keep a musician's high spirits in check, just as a Monday-night jam session at Birdland can bring them out.
The atmosphere of the Newport Jazz Festival is unique. Jazz especially modern jazz, is usually played indoors, in a big city, before a small audience. At Newport, the musicians perform under an open sky; the town itself is technically a city, but it is suburban in feeling; and the audiences are huge. In addition, the festival is as much a social event as a musical one for the performers, most of whom know each other. The whole affair has something of the spirit of a great big family reunion in the country. When Clark Terry steps out on the stage in a knit shirt, bermuda shorts and knee socks, wearing sunglasses not because it's cool but because it's sunny, he hardly looks the part of the citified jazz musician he is supposed to be.
Other factors besides the convivial atmosphere of the Festival affect the music that is played there. So many performers must take the stand during a given Festival concert that none of them gets a chance to play for more than an hour; some have less than thirty minutes. For a musician who is a slow starter, a tiny time segment can be fatal. Even groups which swing from the moment they start to play need time to establish their own mood. The size of the crowd precludes any real give-and-take between audience and artist beyond the mass-meeting variety.
On the other hand, the Newport Jazz Festival exposes large numbers of people outside the urban hip crowd to good live jazz. It employs scores of musicians, many of whom really need the money. And if the setting and tone of the Festival tends to make the musicians exuberant rather than reflective, so what? Good music is good music whatever the mood.
The Festival covered four days--Thursday to Sunday, July 4-7--and took place in Freebody Park, an athletic field between the business center of Newport and its beaches. The four evening concerts, pretty much limitel to big-name stars, were the main attraction, with three varied afternoon programs thrown in for seasoning.
The Newport Jazz Festival is an event of which the citizens of Rhode Island are proud, so it's only natural that on Thursday night the Festival was opened by a public official. In his remarks, Sen. Claiborne Pell tipped his hat to the Festival ("it has become a custom, a delightful institution"), dragged in the Russians (jazz "has penetrated the Iron Curtain and permeated the world better and more effectively than most of our voices have in Washington"), and called his colleague, Sen. Green, "the grandfather of jazz," whatever that means. Then Pell stepped down, and the music began.
The Newport Jazz Festival House Band, assembled especially for the occasion, played first. It is an impressive group including Howard McGhee and Clark Terry, trumpets, and Coleman Hawkins and Zoot Sims, tenor saxophones. On What Is This Thing Called Love, Hawkins' mixture of a mellow tone and fast bop fingering was generally effective, but sometimes a shade tortured.
The best tune by the Cannonball Adderley Sextet was Brother John, composed by Yusef Lateef in honor of John Coltrane. Lateef, the group's tenorman, played oboe on this one to achieve a haunting, Middle Eastern effect. He stood absolutely immobile, lost in concentration, while the rest of the band bounced and wiggled.
In his introduction to Nina Simone, the Voice of America's Willis Conover described her way of singing as "sullen, angry, and exciting." That it was. Miss Simone has a way of starting quietly and slowly, and gradually building to a moving climax. She was angry--at the audience, at her fellow musicians making noise backstage--but it only seemed to improve her performance.
The meeting of Thelonious Monk, a musical revolutionary, and the Dixieland clarinetist Pee Wee Russell was a flop. There is little enough in common between them, and Monk was uncompromising. It was Russell who had to do the adjusting, and in the process his watery tones lost whatever vitality they might have otherwise had. The concert closed with the 21-piece Stan Kenton orchestra.
On Friday afternoon the Festival presented an interesting program of "New Faces in Jazz." One of the faces was not so new--that of Howard McGhee, who was an important bop trumpeter in the late forties and has returned from the living death of narcotics to resume his place in the jazz world. McGhee's quartet includes a 19-year-old Bostonian, Phil Porter, whose bluesy, rocking organ mixes perfectly, with McGhee's completely honest horn. Unlike so many musicians who wander aimlessly through a solo, McGhee plays solos which are each a single coherent message simply and forthrightly expressed.
The evening concert didn't really begin until after the intermission. Maynard Ferguson's screaming orchestra, joined by altoist Sonny Stitt, performed well enough, but the Gerry Mulligan Quartet played listlessly and uninterestingly. It remained for Joe Williams, the blues singer who struck out on his own from the Basie band two years ago, to get the entire crown of 9000 out of its seats and into the aisles, dancing. By the time Williams had finished his fourth song, Come Back, Baby, the audience was standing, and after his fifth, All God's Children Got Swing, almost everyone was in the aisles. The police, sensing trouble, rushed into the crowd, but came back satisfied that they were only dancing. Even after Williams had sung six encores, the crowd kept chanting, "We want Joe".
The pace Williams had established was kept by the vocal trio of Lambert, Hendricks and Bevan and by the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet with Milt Jackson. Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks and Yolande Bevan use their voices as instruments, a singing techinque originated by King Pleasure. Singing the Miles Davis version of Bye, Bye Blackbird, Hendricks displayed a technical and emotional range he has never showed before.
Milt Jackson usually plays the vibraharp with the Modern Jazz Quartet, and he is the only factor preventing that group from losing touch completely with the roots of jazz. He seemed much more at home with Dizzy Gillespie. Jackson's flawless, effortless improvisations flowed like fresh, clean rain.