Opinion/Lofgren: Ready for another transcendent Newport Jazz Festival

Anna Lofgren, of Kingston, is a master’s candidate and radio show host in Rhode Island.

Every year at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, an illustrious Rhode Island tradition takes place. As the historic Newport Jazz Festival nears (July 29-31), I find myself indulging in music of prior generations. As a millennial, it is impossible not to notice the ineluctable departure of jazz from the mainstream. Video, vinyl, CDs and mp3s, however, transport me to an era long past.

What first sparked my interest in the Newport Jazz Festival was a documentary, "Jazz on a Summer’s Day." It features performances by Anita O’Day, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, and more. One of my favorite qualities of "Jazz on a Summer’s Day" is that it warms viewers with unexpected, sporadic shots of spectator reactions to performances. It conveys an audience deeply attuned to the music, the atmosphere, and each other. This documentary immediately hooked me on the world of jazz.

What enticed me most in the documentary was Anita O’Day’s performance of the song “Sweet Georgia Brown.” After watching the film, I felt inspired to read O’Day’s autobiography, "High Times, Hard Times." It exposed me to a wild life of cabaret clubs, musical devotion, and sheer debauchery. O’Day was wise to the fact that her performance at the Newport Jazz Festival turned heads, though she could not recall much of the experience.

The Newport Jazz Festival stage has a way of transporting performers and listeners to a distant realm, almost Dionysian, which is conveyed by riots at the festival in 1960, 1969 and 1971. These riots ultimately led festival founder George Wein to move the Newport Jazz Festival to New York City for a brief stint in time.

Another jazz legend connected to the festival is Duke Ellington. His career revival is often cited as taking place on the Newport Jazz Festival stage. His show-stopping performance in 1956 caused a stir that would propel his artistry back into limelight. Wein described the performance as the greatest of Ellington’s career.

Miles Davis, another household name, made a career comeback at the festival in 1955. Icons Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Billie Holiday blessed the stage in 1957. Other Newport Jazz Festival performers worth mentioning are Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Sun Ra and Nina Simone.

Wein will be honored with a tribute during Sunday’s event with performances by Trombone Shorty, Hiromi, and more. Wein attended every Newport Jazz Festival except for three before he passed away in September 2021. This year’s Newport Jazz Festival is a time to remember Wein and the legacy he left our great state.

As I prepare to attend this year’s festival, I marvel at the steep history that has forged a magnificent tradition. It also helps to have the privilege of familiarizing myself with many jazz musicians thanks to my radio show at one of the last commercial-free radio stations in Rhode Island. Each week this month, I have highlighted performances from the Newport Jazz Festival.

Jazz masters make it easy to honor them, especially given the power they exalted on the Newport stage. I look forward to witnessing the celebration of Wein and ringing in another festival for the books.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Opinion/Lofgren: Ready for another transcendent Newport Jazz Festival