Newport Jazz Festival July 1969

Newport Jazz Festival July 1969
Authored By John Nicholson

Newport Jazz Festival was a long running jazz fest but in July 1969 it opened its doors to hip n groovy rock acts. It became an experiment in fusing jazz, soul and rock music.

Its lineup included, besides jazz, Friday evening appearances by rock groups Jeff Beck, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Ten Years After and Jethro Tull as well as Roland Kirk and Steve Marcus. Saturday's schedule mixed jazz acts such as Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck with others including The Mothers Of Invention, John Mayall and Sly and the Family Stone. James Brown was among those who appeared Sunday afternoon, followed in the evening by Herbie Hancock, B. B. King and Led Zeppelin.

George Wein who ran the show was later to say "the festival was sheer hell - the worst four days of my life....the kids destroyed the event and the experiment was a failure". Aw, poor George. 

24,000 got in with 10,000 outside on the hill. Saturday saw the main gate destroyed and gatecrashers get in to see Sly and the Family Stone. Heavy drinking and general rowdiness invested bad vibes to the whole event.

The promoters were scared of a repeat on the Sunday night when Zep were due to play. They, probably rightly, assumed the huge crowd would tear the fences down in order to see the band who were riding a crest of a new wave of popularity. So Wein announed they wouldn't play, saying Robert Plant was ill, leaving Johnny Winter as the only rock act. This worked well, and diffused the large numbers. However, Zep were not pleased - we can only imagine Peter Grant's reaction to being bumped from the bill like this and they insisted on playing anyway.

It was an unsatisfactory weekend for all with jazz audiences annoyed by the rowdy rockers and the rockers not hip to the jazz groove. No-one would try and mix hard jazz with hard rock again in this era. However, you can find bootlegs of the Mothers set, Jeff Back and Ten Years After too and all are superb. So maybe the music won in the end.

Scroll To Top