JJ 06/59: Jazz festivals

Sinclair Traill on the epidemic of jazz festivals - not today, but 60 years ago. First published in in Jazz Journal, June 1959


Jazz festivals, like spring, would seem to be busting out all over this year. Both here and over the Atlantic we hear of more and more festivals being promoted; and the more numerous they become, so also do they grow in size. You may think, as we do, that the concert platform is not the best medium for jazz, but like it or not it is evident the jazz festival has come to stay.

The music was considered slightly démodé and to have put on a week of such trashy noise would have been courting disaster – both financially and socially

How the scene has altered in recent years? A few years ago such a function was almost unheard of, for no one, excepting a millionaire-lunatic, would have risked a penny on such a non-U diversion as a festival of jazz. The music was considered slightly démodé and to have put on a week of such trashy noise would have been courting disaster – both financially and socially. But in recent times things have altered considerably. Like the roaring old drunk now peaceably retired from the sea, jazz has with age gained a certain amount of respectability, and has become welcome in almost any society.

As is usual in matters saturnalia, our American cousins are way out ahead of us with their jazz festivals. They are, of course, larger, bigger, more ornate and we daresay much noisier than our homegrown variety. In America this summer, festivals will be held at Boston, Randalls Island, South Bay, Monterey, French Lick (we just love that one!), with, of course, the normal frolic at Newport.

In addition this year will see a real he-man shebang in Chicago. To be held at Soldiers Field, which has a mere capacity of some 100,000, this jazz junket is being promoted by Playboy. This magazine has discovered that their readers relish a little jazz as a seasoning to the normal monthly ogle of the luscious nudes that grace their glossy pages, and the list of artists appearing at this festival reads like an index to Jazz Makers. The organization will be in the capable hands of Don Gold, erstwhile Downbeat editor, so it is more than probable that the affair will go off with a bang.

It is unlikely that many of us will be lucky enough to attend any, let alone all, of these American diversions, and so we shall no doubt have to content ourselves with the examples of these festivities that will eventually find their way onto the British market by way of the gramophone record.

To return to the calmer (we nearly said greener) pastures of our home scene, joyous jazz will blossom forth this year in a variety of places, varying from ancestral homes to ancient cities and other places too numerous to mention.

First comes the Bath Festival. This ancient borough last year ran a week of jazz. Using British talent, slightly spiced by the inclusion of two American folk singers, the week was a smacking success – so much so that the far-seeing committee who run this music festival have this year extended the occasion to ten days. In addition to using the cream of our topical topliners they are also importing several foreign artists. From France comes violinist Stephane Grappelly, from Germany Hans Koller on tenor saxophone, and from Austria Fatty George who performs on trumpet and vibraphone. As an additional attraction to these instrumentalists come three lady vocalists, Monica Zetterlund from Sweden, Rita Reys from Holland and that exceptional blues singer from America, Dinah Washington. This will be Miss Washington’s only appearance in Britain, so Thursday, 11th June, should be a date in your diary. She will appear with the Dill Jones Trio, the Vic Ash Sextet and the other guest artists.

Following on Bath the jazz scene moves ever so slightly eastwards to the baronial halls of Beaulieu, the home of Lord Montagu. The festival here takes place on the first three days of August and we know of no more beautiful setting for music than the grounds of this lovely Hampshire house. Here again a strong programme has been devised, for although no foreign artists are being used, the festival will see the premiering of some musical themes, especially written for the occasion and which will be performed by the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra and by Ted Heath and His Music. The traditional fare will be capably dispensed by Mick Mulliaan and his band, the Acker Bilk gentlemen and Ken Colyer.

Let us hope it keeps fine for everybody.
The Editor, Sinclair Traill