In 1954, Louis and Elaine Lorillard, jazz fans and frequent visitors to George Wein's Storyville jazz club in Boston's Copley Hotel, asked the jazz impresario to produce a jazz event in Newport to bring more excitement to the resort area's summer season. Instead of simply presenting a concert, George decided to offer a jazz festival, similar to the outdoor classical events produced at Tanglewood. The Newport Jazz Festival(r) became the first jazz festival in America and started an era that has inspired jazz and music events around the world, including the Newport Folk Festival, which was founded in 1959.
From 1954 - 1960, the Jazz Festival was produced by the non-profit Newport Jazz Festival Board, with Louis Lorillard as its president. The Board also produced the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and 1960. After a brief hiatus, George returned to Newport in 1962 to present the Jazz Festival through his own company; the Folk Festival came back in 1963. George is pleased to return the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival to their roots as non-profit events, ensuring that the Festivals will be a part of Newport's, and the world's, musical history in perpetuity. Both Festivals will now be produced under the umbrella of Newport Festivals Foundation, Inc., a newly-formed 501(c)(3) organization. The events will still be produced by George Wein and his veteran staff.
The Newport Jazz Festival is the scene of Miles Davis' resurgences in 1955 and again in 1984 and Duke Ellington's historical 1956 comeback. Over the years, every major jazz artist has performed at the festival, including Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday as well as contemporary artists including Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and Diana Krall. Referred to as a Mecca of jazz, the event draws thousands of people from all over the world to Newport, a city which is famed for its spectacular coastal scenery and awe-inspiring architecture.
After four years of exciting jazz festivals, George and his wife Joyce got together with folk icon Pete Seeger and his wife Toshi to create a festival dedicated to folk music. The annual event features performances by folk, blues, country, bluegrass and folk rock musicians, and since the 1990's has featured performers from related contemporary genres, such as alternative country, indie folk and more. The festival is renowned for introducing a number of performers who went on to become major stars, most notably Joan Baez (who appeared as an unannounced guest of Bob Gibson in the inaugural year), and Bob Dylan, whose first Newport appearance, as a guest of Joan Baez in 1963, is generally regarded as his premiere national performance. Two years later, Dylan and the Paul Butterfield Band played an electric set that created controversy, while giving birth to a new era of American music history.
The Festivals are held over consecutive weekends, featuring artists on three stages at historic Fort Adams State Park as well at other locations in Newport.