Friday, August 5, 2011

A Midsummer's Night Dream

This weekend, jazz aficionados from all over the world will sail into Rhode Island for the 57th version of the Newport Jazz Festival at For Adams State Park. Since 1954, the Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, has presented world class acts packed into a handful days each summer. Established by George Wein in 1954, the outdoor summer jazz festival became the first of it's kind. Although it moved to New York City in 1972 before returning to Newport in 1981 - the festival is still considered to be one of the most important events in jazz. Over the years there have been so many legendary performances by iconic figures, it's difficult to single one out. However, if I could climb into the Way Back Machine and travel back in time, I would set the dial for Newport on July 2, 1965.
The festival that year featured a Who's Who of jazz and blues legends. Wes Montgomery, Stan Getz, Memphis Slim with Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters with James Cotton and Little Bo, Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, Les McCann Trio, Modern Jazz Quartet, Joe Williams, Art Blakey. A jam session with Buddy Rich, Sonny Stit, and Illinois Jacquet.  Dave Brubeck with Paul Desmond, Herbie Mann, Earl "Fatha" Hines, The Duke Ellington Orchestra featuring Louis Bellson on drums. Wrapping up on Sunday night was the Oscar Peterson Trio, Count Basie Orchestra, and the Chairman himself - Frank Sinatra.
It's the Friday evening show, billed as "Jazz For Moderns", that makes my head spin. Art Blakey Quintet, Carmen McRae, Miles Davis Quintet, Thelonius Monk Quartet, followed by John Coltrane Quartet. The stars aside, it's the supporting cast that  blows me away - Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, to name a few. 46 years later and this lineup is still ahead of it's time.
I like to imagine this scene taking place backstage that night:
One last impossible note  floating in the heavy summer air, a drop of sweat falls from his brow and sizzles as it hits the still smoldering remains of his trumpet. Miles quickly pushes his way past the squirming blue blooded socialites, the drooling hipster culture vultures, and the anxious dope pushers and through the dressing room door. He fixes his steely eyes on Trane and mutters in that unmistakable voice "Follow that Muthufucka."