From time to time on The Checkout, I listen to records with Ben Ratliff, music critic for The New York Times. When he broke the news that a collection of historic recordings from the Newport Jazz Festival was now online, I had to hear the music.
Now, 1959 is often viewed as a banner year for jazz, and studio recordings made during that time make a strong case. This is something different. To be sure, popular support for jazz was down, but Newport had cachet. It was still possible for a jazz musician to ignite a career with a great performance at the Newport Casino, because people took this festival seriously.
Twenty-seven sets from the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival are now available at Wolfgang's Vault. They were all well-recorded; a Duke Ellington set from that year was even released commercially in Japan. You can hear the bands well, and you can hear the audience reactions, too. There's real excitement and electricity in these short sets.
Hearing it all is a little overwhelming, to say the least, but here are five songs from Newport '59 that Ben Ratliff and I listened to intensely. The comments are mostly Ratliff's.