This photo of Louis and Elaine Lorillard – the founders of the Newport Jazz Festival – summarizes the first night of the 1956 Festival. It rained and it rained a lot. For a while it looked as if the performances would have to be cancelled but finally Count Basie and his orchestra kicked off the Festival in front on the 5.000 jazz fans who had dared to face the rain.
The program of the first night was based on a formula that George Wein was going to use over and over for the New Jazz Festivals. A little bit of this and a little bit of that to please jazz fans with different interests but also to give them a rather full serving of the current jazz scene.
The Swedish jazz journalist (amongst other things) Claes Dahlgren contributed a long report to the Swedish jazz magazine Orkesterjournalen and the account below builds very much on it.
Count Basie and his orchestra was the anchor of July 5 program and the big band feature. By many accounts it was also the hit of the first day. Its appearance at the end of the night got the crowd excited and Dahlgren liked it a lot. “The band had one of its better nights and this means jazz, jazz, JAZZ”.
Sarah Vaughan was the singer on July 5 and Claes Dahlgren had some nice words to say about her performance and liked her focusing on her jazz repertoire and excelling in her improvisational approach to the songs.
Dixieland and small group swing was represented by an Eddie Condon group including among others Wild Bill Davison and Peanuts Hucko. But it was Bud Freeman who particularly got Dahlgren’s praise. “One often forgets Bud when one talks about how the ‘cool’ style was formed”, he said.
Two small groups represented modern jazz. One was the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop, which among other things played a couple of new songs commissioned or requested by George Wein. Dahlgren admitted that he had some problems with Mingus’ kind of music but admitted that Mingus approach was an “honest” one.
The other was Modern Jazz Quartet. For a MJQ fan, it is very pleasurable to listen to the group’s performance and Claes Dahlgren – not being a fan of MJQ – apparently also liked it.
The program of the night was rounded off by two young female pianist, Jutta Hipp – he East German pianist who by that time had moved to the U.S.A and was to record some albums for Blue Note before she ended her career- and the Japanese Toshiko Akiyoshi. Dahlgren had some nice words to say about both of them but felt that they lacked an identity of their own.
Part of the performances by Charles Mingus, Jutta Hipp and MJQ can be listened to in the music player of the website.