Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Highlights From The 1964 Newport Jazz Festival

This weekend, NPR Music is going to the 56th anniversary edition of the CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival to stream concerts live online, and record others for on-demand listening. It's an event with a long legacy of great music — really, the first of its kind — and that continues in 2010. You can see and hear it all unfold at

For this week's Take Five, we're exploring a bit of that legacy. Founded in 1954, the festival was around for some of the now-mythic days of jazz, including the late '50s and early-mid 1960s. Founder George Wein and his team regularly booked living legends and heroes-in-the-making to come up to idyllic, seaside Rhode Island and give thrilling summer concerts. It makes for an astounding historical register; even better, there's a lot of great music captured from the event.

Last year, concert archivists Wolfgang's Vault came into possession of the entire set of official recordings from the Newport Jazz Festival. They've been slowly restoring, researching and releasing digital archives of that collection for free online streaming and paid downloads. We've chosen just a small slice of that: highlights from the 1964 event, recently made available at Wolfgang's Vault. As you can hear, new sounds were in the air, giants were on stage and crowds loved it.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit

Highlights From The 1964 Newport Jazz Festival

Sarah Vaughan

There are plenty of good jazz singers with talent to spare. But great jazz singers? They've got something else: an eminent musicality, a sort of conviction, an ability to sell anyone their vision for a song. Sarah Vaughan's balladic take on "Fly Me To The Moon" is time-stoppingly slow. But she delivers with such gritty intensity, and power, that we're left hanging onto every note. Deftly accompanied by the Bob James trio, Vaughan headlined the Sunday lineup at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival, and held a captive audience in the palm of her hand -- you can hear the clicks of eager cameras in the spaces between notes. Greatness: confirmed.

Stan Getz Quartet feat. Astrud Gilberto

The bossa nova craze which swept over the U.S. in the early 1960s reached an apex with the release of the collaborative album Getz/Gilberto -- and its hit single, "The Girl From Ipanema." So when tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, already a jazz star, played the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival, anticipation was high. Among several special guests -- Chet Baker! -- was vocalist Astrud Gilberto, who sang on the studio recording of "Ipanema." And when she launched into "Tall, and tan, and young and lovely," you can hear the approving wave of recognition. The rest is Getz's understated solo, a young Gary Burton comping tactfully on vibraphone and a delighted audience.

Max Roach Quartet

In 1960, as the Civil Rights Movement hit critical mass, drummer Max Roach recorded We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, an LP-length work which drew inspiration from the entirety of African American history. Besides its sociopolitical statement, it was also his masterpiece album, featuring Booker Little, Coleman Hawkins and Abbey Lincoln singing (and screaming) powerful words from Oscar Brown, Jr. Lincoln was there when Max Roach reprised the entire Freedom Now Suite at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival. She doesn't appear much on "Tears For Johannesburg" -- dedicated to the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 -- but Roach and his band do lay down a snappy, open, 5/4 groove for hard blowing. Everybody in the band (Lonnie Liston Smith on piano, Clifford Jordan on tenor, Eddie Kahn on bass) gets a solo, and it's as potent musically as it is otherwise.

Ben Webster and Friends

Here's a blast from the past, even for 1964. Not that Ben Webster, Buck Clayton, Slam Stewart and the rest of the all-star staged jam session were anything close to passe, as this recording of "Perdido" proves. It's just that some of these folks had made their names in jazz a decade or two earlier. But here they are, blowing the lights out: muted trombonist Al Grey, the ever-versatile pianist Sir Charles Thompson, hard-swinging drummer Ben Riley, ever-classy trumpeter Clayton and bassist Slam Stewart, with one of his trademark virtuosic bowed and voiced solos. And of course, there's Webster, a titan of his art. He comes in gruff and hoarse, a daring roar of a solo. They don't make 'em like that much any more.

Dave Brubeck Quartet

Dave Brubeck waxed his greatest hits in recording studios, including polite odd-meter experiments like "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk." But Dave Brubeck live is a different animal, much looser and full of gutsy swing. After all, here's a man who rose to fame in nightclubs, and on tours of college campuses across the country. His "classic" quartet — the same unit which recorded Time Out — was at Newport in 1964, and they stretch out at length on the standard "Pennies From Heaven." Dig Paul Desmond's floating, time-stretching sound on alto sax, and Brubeck's rousing two-handed chord blocks. Brubeck really brought it live, and still does: He returns to the 2010 Newport Jazz Festival to perform with Wynton Marsalis' band.

Patrick Jarenwattananon