It was in 1954, that Elaine Lorillard and her husband Louis founded the Newport Jazz Festival. Elaine’s love affair with jazz began in 1943. 

She was twenty-nine, single and was living in New York when she first heard jazz music. This was very different to her musical background. Elaine Guthrie was a graduate of the New England Conservatory Of Music. Music was in her blood. Her mother was a classical singer. However, Elaine wasn’t about to follow in her footsteps. Instead, she had just accepted a job with the Red Cross in Naples. 

Elaine new job found her teaching orphans to paint and play play the piano. It was a role she was suited to. She a classically trained musician and a gifted painter. By day Elaine taught,  and at night she explored the city of Naples. It was during two of these expeditions, that her life was changed forevermore.

During a trip into Naples, Elaine Guthrie heard jazz. Although she had heard jazz in New York before, this was the start of her love affair with jazz. Another of Elaine’s expeditions into Naples resulted in another love affair.

It was in Naples that Elaine first met Lieutenant Louis Livingston Lorillard. He was stationed in Naples with the US Army. Louis was five years Elaine’s junior. This didn’t matter. The pair quickly grew close and married three years later in 1946. By then, Elaine had embraced jazz fully. 

Once they were married, Elaine and Louis’ love of jazz grew. They occasionally visited jazz clubs to catch some of the big names as they swung through town. In 1953, Elaine and Louis visited the Storyville Nightclub. Joining them, were Elaine’s brother Thomas T. Guthrie and his friend Professor Borne, from Boston University. However, that night, it wasn’t jazz they heard. 

As they listened to the music, they got talking with the owner George Wein. Elaine and Louis told George Wein that if he intruded jazz to his club, it might improve the “terribly boring” club. Fortunately, George didn’t take offence to this advice, and this was the start of a friendship that resulted in Elaine, Louis  and George founding one of the most prestigious jazz festivals, the Newport Jazz Festival.

Louis, who was the heir to the Lorillard Tobacco Company, gave a grant of $20,000 grant for the first Newport Jazz Festival. There was a caveat though. The Newport Jazz Festival was founded as not-for-profit organisation. Any profits made, were to be used to educate musicians. With the ground rules established, George Wein began organising what would become as the First Annual American Jazz Festival.

Eventually, George had a venue for The Newport Jazz Festival. It would be held at Newport Casino in the Bellevue Avenue Historic District of Newport, Rhode Island. The festival lasted two days, and combined live music with academic panel discussions. These discussions took place inside the Casino, while the performances took place on the lawn. Topping the bill was Billie Holiday. A total of 11,000 people attended the two day festival in July 1954. It had been a resounding success. 

After the success of the first The Newport Jazz Festival, George Wein began to make plans for 1955. Straight away, there was a problem. The Newport Casino’s facilities couldn’t cope with the numbers that attended the Festival, and the lawn had been damaged. So they declined to host the second Newport Jazz Festival. For George Wein this was a disaster.

Fortunately, Elaine and Louis noticed that a local estate Belcourt was for sale. This they thought, would be a perfect venue for The Newport Jazz Festival. So they bought Belcourt, only for those in the neighbourhood to object to the plans to host the The Newport Jazz Festival at Belcourt. George Wein was back to square one. 

Luckily, an alternative venue was found. Freebody Park a nearby sports arena hosted the concerts. However, the workshops and discussions were allowed to be held at Belcourt. It seemed the neighbourhood didn’t object to academic discussions taking place locally. Music, however, was an other matter. With a venue in place, George went looking for someone to headline the the second Newport Jazz Festival.

George Wein set his sights high, and had booked Miles Davis. It was the easiest booking George ever made. The pair had met in a jazz club in New York in late 1954. Miles had asked “George are you going to to have the festival again up in Newport?” An astonished George Wein responded: “Miles you want to be in the festival?” Quick as a flash, Miles said: “you can’t have it without me.” There and then the deal was sealed. 

Despite what would be a huge boost to the nascent event, George didn’t advertise Miles Davis’ appearance. Everything had happened so late in the day. However, even without advertising Miles Davis’ appearance, it would be a vast improvement on the previous year.

Billie Holiday had been booked for the first Newport Jazz Festival. However, her career was on the slide, and Lady Day was a pale shadow of her former self. Miles Davis however, was one of the biggest names in jazz.

Miles Davis’ hard bop era had finished in 1954, and 1955 was the start of a new era. It featured Miles Davis’ first great quintet. As Miles played trumpet, the rhythm section featured drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Paul Chambers. They were augmented by pianist Red Garland and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. This all-star lineup was would become part of jazz history. However, this wasn’t the band that took to the stage at the second Newport Jazz Festival on 17th July 1955. Excerpts from this performance feature on Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975-The Bootleg Series Volume 4, which was recently released as a four disc set by Sony Music.

Disc One.

Instead, George Wein put together a band for second Newport Jazz Festival. It featured pianist Thelonius Monk, baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims and a rhythm section of bassist Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay of The Modern Jazz Quartet. The result was a versatile band who were just as happy playing hard bop or moving towards the cool school. This was perfect for Miles Davis’ unexpected Newport Jazz Festival debut.

It took place at Festival Field Newport on 17th July 1955. Accompanied by a tight, uber talented and versatile band, Miles took to the stage. Gerry Mulligan introduces the band, and then they get to work. Having accompanied Miles on Hackensack, the highlight of the set unfolds. That’s a seminal six minute performance of Round Midnight. Miles delivers a stunning trumpet solo, which was hailed as “the return of Miles Davis.” From there, the band join Miles on Charlie Parker’s Now’s The Time. They feature on disc one of Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975-The Bootleg Series Volume 4. It documents the first twenty years of Miles Davis’ thirty year association with the Newport Jazz Festival. 

Over the next twenty years, constantly, Miles returned to Newport like a conquering hero. Often, he had just reinvented himself, or released a classic, or groundbreaking album. However, as Miles and his band left the state in 1955, little did anyone realise that thirty years down the line, Miles would still be star at Newport. Excerpts from Miles performances in 1958, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1973 and 1975 all feature on Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975-The Bootleg Series Volume 4’s four discs. 

Three years after his Newport debut, Miles Davis returned in 1958. It was a case of hail the conquering hero. Since 1955, he had founded his first great quintet and sextet. Miles had also recently released two classic albums, ‘Round About Midnight and Miles Ahead. This provided Miles with some of the material for his set at Newport in 1958.

Just like his Newport debut, Miles was accompanied by some of the legends of jazz. Pianist Bill Evans joined tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley on alto sax. They were joined by a rhythm section of bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. They took to the stage at Newport Field on 3rd July 1958.

After Willis Connover introduces the band, they open their set with Charlie Parker’s Ah-Leu-Cha from ‘Round About Midnight. They follow this up with Straight No Chaser, which would feature on Milestones later in 1958, then Fran-Dance. Then  it’s another track from Milestone Two Bass Hit. By then, Miles and his band are in the groove. So they revisit another track from ‘Round About Midnight Bye-Bye Blackbird, before closing the show with The Theme. Just like in 1955, it’s a case of hail the conquering hero, as Miles exits stage left. However, he would be back.

Disc Two.

When Miles Davis returned in 1961, the previous year’s festival hadn’t been a huge success. A rival festival took place at the nearby Cliff Walk Manor Hotel. It had been organised by musicians Charles Mingus and Max Roach. This was their way of protesting at what they perceived as the low fess paid to musicians. What Messrs. Mingus and Roach failed to see, was that the Newport Jazz Festival was a not-for-profit organisation. Any profits made, were used to educate musicians. So setting up a rival event, was affecting the education of musicians. That wasn’t the end of George Wein’s woes.

To make matters worse, audiences at Newport had gained a reputation for being lively, or some may say rowdy. In 1960, as Muddy Waters headlined the Festival, crowd trouble broke out. Things got so bad, that the National Guard were called. This had ramifications.

The disturbance in 1960, resulted in the 1961 event being cancelled. Then in 1961, Elaine and Louis Lorillard ended their association with the Newport Jazz Festival. In 1962, George Wein had managed to secure the Freebody Park for the Newport Jazz Festival. However, 1962 saw a change in the way the profits from the Festival were distributed.

Up until then, the Newport Jazz Festival was a not-for-profit organisation. That ended with the Lorillard’s association with the Newport Jazz Festival. So George Wein decided that now was the time to run the Newport Jazz Festival as a commercial enterprise. This would please some of the mercenaries within the jazz profession. Four years after this change in the philosophy of the Newport Jazz Festival, Miles Davies returned in 1966.

A lot had happened when Miles returned in 1966. The biggest difference was that the Newport Jazz Festival was being staged outside the city limits. This happened for the first time in 1964. A year later, in 1965, and Frank Sinatra was the headliner. His appearance resulted in record attendances. After Ole Blue Eyes won over Newport, the bar had been set high. George needed someone guaranteed to bring the audiences flooding in. What better person than Miles Davis.

By the time Miles took to the stage at Festival Field on 4th July 1966, music had undergone a revolution. Rock ’n’ roll had been in its infancy the last time Miles took to the stage at Newport. Now it was all change. Pop and rock ruled the roost, and the psychedelic era had just begun. Jazz was on its uppers, and many thought it was about to go the way of blues music. Not if Miles had anything to do with it.

As Miles took to the stage, he was accompanied by tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. They open the show with Gingerbread Boy from the 1966 album Miles Smiles. From there, Miles moves through All Blues and Stella By Starlight and the Ron Carter penned R.J. Then Miles and his band return to Seven Steps To Heaven, the title-track from his 1963 album. 

The Steps To Heaven album featured an entirely new band. This came after Miles’ previous band quit. It hadn’t been a good time for Miles. He had health problems, resulting in him missing gigs. The remaining gigs he played varied in quality. However, the gigs he had missed proved costly. Soon, the money dried up, and Miles couldn’t pay his band. They quit en masse. Ironically, it was the best thing that happened to Miles.

He quickly assembled a band to record the Steps To Heaven album. They spent the next six years with Miles, and played on some his best albums of the sixties. The band were enjoying their Newport Jazz Festival debut with Miles. Especially, Herbie Hancock who plays a starring role on Steps To Heaven. This future standard had been penned by Miles and pianist Victor Feldman. It was the penultimate track of the set. After Steps To Heaven, the band play The Theme and they take their bow. A year later, Miles and his band return.

When Miles and the same band that headlined the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival returned in 1967, Miles had a just released Miles Smiles and recorded new album, Sorcerer. It would be released in October 1967. However, on Jul7 2nd 1967, Miles and his band returned to Miles Smiles.

After the usual introductions, Miles and the band play “Ginger Bread Boy and Footprints which featured on Miles Smiles. Then Miles returns to a classic, and a spellbinding performance of ‘Round Midnight unfolds. Although it’s not quite up there with Miles performance in 1958, it’s a captivating performance. Following this up isn’t easy, but So What is the track that’s chosen, before The Theme closes the show. It would be another two years before Miles returned to the Newport Jazz Festival.

Disc Three.

By 1969, fusion had rode to the rescue of jazz. This marriage of funk, jazz and rock saved jazz from following in the footsteps of the blues. However, this didn’t please some traditionalists. These veteran musicians weren’t fans of fusion. It seemed they would rather endure penury than play fusion. Not Miles, he embraced fusion.

From 1968s Miles In The Sky to 1969 Filles de Kilimanjaro, Miles’ music moved towards fusion. In A Silent Way, which was recorded on February 18th 1969, saw the shift towards fusion complete. It was scheduled for release in late July, just after Miles played at the Newport Jazz Festival on 5th July 1969.

Accompanying Miles, were a new band. The quartet featured pianist Chick Corea, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland. They played a fusion filled set. A ten minute version of Miles Runs the Voodoo Down opened the set. Just like Sanctuary, it would feature on Miles next album, Bitches Brew. This classic album was released in 1970. Closing the set was It’s About That Time, from the 1969 album In A Silent Way. As Miles and the band left the stage, some critics realised they had witnessed the future of jazz.

Four years later, and fusion was just as popular. The genre continued to reinvent itself. Fusion was thriving all over the word, including in Germany. This was Miles Davis destination on 1st November 1973. George Wein had decided to take the Newport Jazz Festival on the road. So Miles and his latest band made their way to Berlin.

At the Berlin Philarmonie, Miles and his band work their way through five tracks. Ronne Scott introduced the band. It featured percussionist James Mtume Forman and Dave Leibman on flute, soprano and tenor saxophonist.They’re joined by guitarists Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey who also plays percussion. The rhythm section features drummer Al Foster and electric bassist Michael Henderson. Miles switches between trumpet and organ, over the five tracks.

Turnaroundphrase opens the set, before Tune In 5, fourteen minute version of Ife. From there, Miles and the band switch into Untitled Original and return to Tune In 5. It’s Miles Davis pushing musical boundaries and ensuring his music evolved. That had been the case throughout his career. He wasn’t going to change. That was the case in 1975, when the Newport Jazz Festival went on the road again.

This time, they didn’t go far. The Avery Fisher Hall, New York was the destination. Miles’ band from 1973 had evolved slightly. Sam Morrison had been drafted in to play tenor sax, replacing Dave Liebman. This latest lineup of Miles’ band features on a version of Mtume. It featured on Miles 1974 album Get Up With It. By then, he was combining free jazz with post bop and fusion. Miles Davis was, forever the musical chameleon. That had been the case two years earlier.

Disc Four.

On 22nd October 1971, the Newport Jazz Festival travelled to Switzerland. The venue was Neue Stadtalle, Dietikon. Miles was scheduled to play two concerts. The first of these concerts features on disc four of Miles Davis Live At Newport 1955-1975-The Bootleg Series Volume 4. That night, Miles and his band work their way through seven tracks.

By then, Miles band had changed its lineup. Musicians seemed to come and go. Gary Bartz played soprano and alto saxophone. Keith Jarrett played electric piano and organ. Perussionists included James Mtume Forman and Don Aias. The rhythm section featured drummer Ndugu Leon Chancler and electric bassist Michael Henderson. This latest lineup would wow the Swiss audience.

Opening the show with Directions, Miles and his band moved onto What I Say? A four minute version of Sanctuary, which closed Bitches Brew in 1970, was followed by It’s About Time. Then Miles returns to Bitches Brew, which had been released in April 1970, and was well on its way to selling two million copies in America alone. To celebrate this, Miles and the band unleash a near twelve minute version of the title-track. It’s an epic. However, that’s nothing compared to Funky Tonk, which lasts nearly twenty-six minutes. It’s Miles at his most innovative, pushing musical boundaries, switching between genres and taking the track in unexpected directions. After Funky Tonk, the Wayne Shorter composition Sanctuary closes not just the set, but Miles Davis Live At Newport 1955-1975-The Bootleg Series Volume 4.

As box sets go, Miles Davis Live At Newport 1955-1975-The Bootleg Series Volume 4 is a lovingly compiled box set, which  was recently released by Sony Music. It celebrates and documents the first twenty years that Miles was associated with the Newport Jazz Festival. This box set also shows how Miles Davis’ music evolved over this period.

Miles Davis was never content to stand still. He was restless. Having pioneered or been at the forefront of a musical movement or genre, Miles wanted to move on. So he went in search of the latest musical genre. He had moved from bebop, hard bop and post bop, to modal free jazz and fusion. There’s even a nod towards psychedelia during this twenty year celebration of Miles Davis association with the Newport Jazz Festival. 

After his debut in 1955, Miles Davis returned in 1958, 1966, 1967 and 1969. As the sixtes gave way to seventies, Miles association with the  Newport Jazz Festival continued. Miles returned in 1971, 1973 and 1975. Often he was hailed the conquering hero. Even when jazz’s popularity declined in the late sixties, Miles Davis continued to win friends and influence the Newport audience.

By 1969, George Wein had tried to broaden the appeal of the  Newport Jazz Festival. He decided to combine rock, soul and jazz. So on the Saturday, Jeff Beck, Ten Years After, Blood Sweat and Tears and Jethro Tull rubbed shoulders with Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck, John Mayall and Sly and The Family Stone. Then on the Sunday, James Brown the self styled ‘Godfather of funk,’ joined Herbie Hancock and B.B. King. The headline act was Led Zeppelin. They rose above the mediocrity of James Brown and B.B. King, stealing the show. The inclusion of non jazz acts had been a resounding success, so two years later, George Wein booked The Allman Brothers Band.

Again George Wein’s decision to book a much more eclectic selection of artists proved a huge success. It continued to broaden the appeal of the Newport Jazz Festival. On the second night of the Festival, Dionne Warwick was performing in an adjacent field. As she began to sing What The World Needs Now Is Love, festival goers crashed through fences. A disturbance followed and chaos ensued. Later, members of the audience rushed the stage, and equipment was destroyed. Not for the first time, trouble blighted the Newport Jazz Festival. It was a victim of its own success. 

Just like Miles Davis, the Newport Jazz Festival survived the decline in jazz’s popularity. Miles and George Wein knew that in both their cases they had to adapt and evolve. If neither Miles Davis nor the Newport Jazz Festival evolved, they would’ve become irrelevant. That didn’t happen though. Both Miles and the Newport Jazz Festival went from strength to strength.

Miles Davis was associated with the Newport Jazz Festival until 1985. Their relationship had lasted thirty years, and during that period, Miles Davis continued to reinvent his music. Continually, he innovated and pushes musical boundaries. That was the case right up until his death in 1991. His career had spanned five decades, during which Miles Davis released forty-eight studio albums. This include classic albums like 1957s Birth Of The Cool and ’Round About Midnight, 1959s, Kind Of Blue  and 1970s Bitches Brew. Tracks from each of these albums feature on Miles Davis Live At Newport 1955-1975-The Bootleg Series Volume 4, which documents, and celebrates, the first twenty years of Miles Davis association with the Newport Jazz Festival.




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