Before 1954, Newport, R.I., was a quiet resort town for the rich who loved sunshine, tennis, their sailboats, yachts and, of course, fresh seafood. Their tastes never changed, but jazz was added to the menu when the married socialites Elaine and Louis Lorillard founded and financed the summer Newport Jazz Festival. They hired young jazz enthusiast George Wein to organize and promote the event.
Through the efforts of this trio’s embryonic efforts, Newport became a jazz mecca for everyone, not only New Yorkers, eventually blossoming into an international jazz happening for anyone with the faintest concept of improvisational swing or just plain hipness.
While only in its second year, the performances of Miles Davis’ 1955 solo on “Round Midnight” and Duke Ellington Orchestra’s performance of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” with a saxophone solo by Paul Gonsalves, stood out as memorable performances in the festival’s history.
In 1957, the jazz vocal stylists Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae performed on the same stage. That almost sounds unreal, but the date was recorded. The album is respectively their names “at Newport” (released in 1958).
The Newport Jazz Festival continues July 31 to Aug. 2 at Fort Adams State Park. Now in its 61st year with Wein standing proud at the helm, he continues to present the best that jazz has to offer.
The music begins in the morning and swings long after dark. Musicians unite after their performances and fall into jam sessions that resemble those blazing nights in Harlem. Ellington, Davis, Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk and Nina Simone won’t be seen, but their spirits are in the midst, cheering the youngsters on, who will eventually join them in the circle of legends.
The festival opens with a healthy list of jazz musicians, some of which include the Christian McBride Trio with the pianist Christian Sands and the drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., the Johnathan Blake Quartet, Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet and the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra with special guest soloist Sean Jones.
Aug. 1, the performances continue to flow with vocalist Cassandra Wilson celebrating Holiday, Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton, Cecile McLorin Salvant with the Aaron Diehl Trio, Jon Batiste and Stay Human and the Kenny Garrett Quintet.
The performer who will most remember this day will be child prodigy 11-year-old Joey Alexander. The young pianist, who knows his way around the pearly keys, understanding the concepts of harmony, melody and swing, is currently enjoying a media blitz. His debut album, “My Favorite Things” (Motema), was just released. After his most recent two-day engagement at Manhattan’s Jazz Standard, he will appear at Newport with the same trio from his latest recording, consisting of the drummer Sammy Miller and the bassist Russell Hall.
Aug. 1 to 2 will also feature the event “Newport Jazz Festival Celebrates 60 Years of Miles Davis,” with Ashley Kahn, an award-winning author, curating four panel discussions on Davis and presenting music from the just-released Columbia/Legacy Recordings box set “Miles Davis at Newport, 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4.
The seminar will include discussions with co-producer Steve Berkowitz, packager Nell Mulderry, Davis’ nephew Vince Wilburn Jr., who is a drummer, and Davis’ son Erin Davis, with Kahn moderating.
The Aug. 2 finale will feature such musicians as Dr. John and the Nite Trippers, Michel Camilo/Hiromi Piano Duets, Lou Donaldson Quartet and Jon Faddis: Triumph of Trumpets.
The violinist and composer Regina Carter can explore traditional jazz or drop some funk in the mix from her hometown of Detroit or play a classical work by Claude Debussy that will enlist tears. July 30 to Aug. 2, she will bring her varied repertoire into the Jazz Standard (116 E. 27th St. at Park Avenue South) for two shows each night at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Carter’s Southern Comfort will venture into her current album (the same name as the group), which is a musical journey tracing her father’s roots in the South. The music ranges from American folk to call-and-response from the blues and ring house spiritual and honky tonk.
For ticket information, call 212-576-2232.
Christian McBride, the host and artistic director of Jazz House Kids, will perform with the young big band Aug. 10 for one show only at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at 7:30 p.m. Jazz House Kids is a community-based arts organization that provides year-round musical, educational and cultural programs to students, teachers and adults from diverse backgrounds. Come out and support these young students who will become the next generation of jazz musicians.