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Concerts celebrate Newport Jazz Festival

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It may be hard to believe, but the iconic Newport Jazz Festival is turning 60 this year.

To celebrate, some of jazz's most renowned performers are coming to the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Jazz Concert Hall Saturday.

The band comprises trumpeter Randy Brecker, tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen, guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist Larry Grenadier, pianist/vocalist Karrin Allyson and drummer Clarence Penn. Paul Martin is the group's usual pianist, but due to a conflict he will be replaced Saturday by Bruce Barth.

The Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60
Where: Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Jazz Concert Hall.
When: 7 (sold out) and 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: $55; 412-322-0800 or mcgjazz.org.

These particular artists were selected for a reason, says Danny Melnick, producer of the tour and associate producer of the festival.

"I wanted a band that could represent many different areas of jazz and not look backward. It's a very forward looking event," Mr. Melnick says. "I wanted this band in some ways to touch upon the past and do more contemporary things. We really have a well-rounded band with a tremendous amount of talent."

Mr. Melnick also organized tours for both the 40th and 50th anniversaries.

The Newport Jazz Festival, the first of its kind and patterned on a one-day festival that had taken place in France, got its start with George Wein, who has produced a number of jazz festivals around the country, including the Mellon Jazz Festival. At the time Mr. Wein, now 88, was running Storyville, a club in Boston, when a couple from Newport, R.I., approached him about having a jazz festival in their city.

While admitting to some trepidation, he figured that it might work and went ahead.

"I knew people would come because of the history of the city, the homes, the great summer mansions," he says. "I knew which artists to bring because of my club."

It was always intended, Mr. Wein says, to cast the broadest possible net on jazz, leading to some interesting pairings.

"[One year] I put Eddie Condon and Bobby Hackett, which represented Chicago, with Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz, who were the avant-garde of their day," Mr. Wein says.

"It's music from J to Z, which means from traditional to contemporary," he says.

Over time, music has changed -- and so has the focus of the festival.

"Back in the '50s, when we started, we had a pick of big names," Mr. Wein says, because jazz was the popular music of that day. The Beatles, however, changed that, and now the mission is to give exposure to young musicians who actually studied jazz in college.

How the festival is administered has also changed. Mr. Melnick says that in 2006 Mr. Wein sold the production company that put on the festival, but that went into bankruptcy in early 2012. However, Mr. Wein was able to hold on to the name Newport and formed a nonprofit to keep it going. By this time Mr. Melnick, who originally joined Mr. Wein in 1990, was running his own company, Absolutely Live Entertainment, and decided that he wanted to produce a 60th anniversary tour. He got the go-ahead from Mr. Wein to do so.

"I am actually making a licensing deal" to do this, Mr. Melnick says. "I am paying the Newport Foundation."

"Our aim is to keep the festival going after I'm gone," Mr. Wein says.


Rick Nowlin: rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871.

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