Various Artists

The Best of Newport '57: 50th Anniversary Collection

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By its third year in 1957, the Newport Jazz Festival had doubled its length to four days and had moved from the local casino complex to Newport's more spacious sports stadium, Freebody Park, and expanded its lineup to include virtually every existing jazz niche then in vogue, from New Orleans roots to swing, bop, post-bop, and even the defiantly avant-garde and rather unimaginably named "new thing." Columbia Records had done some hit or miss recording at the previous year's festival, but in 1957 Verve's Norman Granz, never one to think small, opted to record the whole thing from start to finish, and this two-disc set is a wonderful (and wonderfully recorded) snapshot of what may have been the most inclusive and expansive Newport Jazz Festival ever. The list of names appearing is beyond impressive, including horn men Jack Teagarden, Roy Eldridge, Donald Byrd, Pee Wee Russell, Gerry Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, Sonny Stitt, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and a young Steve Lacey, pianists Oscar Peterson, Cecil Taylor and Bill Evans, and vocalists Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Billie Holiday and Joe Williams, among dozens of other noted musicians and singers. Choosing high points with such an array of talent on display is difficult, but several of the performances Granz captured are true treasures, including Jack Teagarden's (with the Red Allen Band) characteristic laconic vocal on yet another version of "Basin Street Blues," Turk Murphy's New Orleans roots revival rendition of "St. James Infirmary," Coleman Hawkins' sweet ballad turn on "Moonglow," the Oscar Peterson Trio's (augmented by Roy Eldridge, Sonny Stitt and Jo Jones) bubbling and bouncing "Roy's Son," and Cecil Taylor's nervous and fascinating (and quite accessible) "Nona's Blues." The sound is marvelous throughout, with the sonic clarity of a studio session yet retaining all the intimacy and freshness of a live outdoor performance. The end result is a timeless look at jazz at its most diverse, before things really began to splinter into non-interacting camps and warring schools of musical thought. Yeah, there was the new thing, which by definition meant there had to be an old thing, and beyond that, an even older thing, but for four days at Newport in 1957 (and thanks to Norman Granz we have the recorded proof), there was just the one thing, and it was called jazz.

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