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Live Review: The 65th Newport Jazz Festival, for the First Time

A newbie’s observations on the 2019 edition of the world’s most venerable jazz fest

Gary Bartz (left) and Nasheet Waits at the Newport Jazz Festival, August 2, 2019
Gary Bartz (right) and Nasheet Waits at the Newport Jazz Festival, August 2, 2019 (photo: Ken Franckling)

I have a confession to make: Before this year, I’d never been to the Newport Jazz Festival. Growing up in and around Boston with a jazz-fan dad, I was certainly aware of the festival and its long history. I listened to classic albums recorded live at Newport. Every year our local public television station would show highlights of the past year’s fest, and I’d tune in. There was plenty to marvel at, most memorably the twin architectural wonders that were Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks. But the closest I got to the action was on a TV screen. Jazz may have been appreciated in my house, but festivalgoing wasn’t a family priority; for a good part of my youth, the budget for such adventures just didn’t exist.

Later, when I was working for various music publications that covered jazz, I could easily have gone to Newport, but I did not. I could say that it still wasn’t a priority, and that’s true as far as it goes. But there was more to it than that. This was the era of Michael Dorf’s What Is Jazz? Festival (later renamed more than once) and other left-field reactions to mainstream booking policies. The jazz artists I was most excited about played underground joints like the Knitting Factory and Tonic; to think they’d ever be featured at Newport seemed almost inconceivable.

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Originally Published
Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.