In Burt Goldblatt's book, Newport Jazz Festival, Lorraine Lorillard, freshly divorced from her husband by 1960 and forced off the Newport Jazz Festival board, is quoted on the origin of the Rebel Jazz Festival:
"In 1960, Nat Hentoff called me from New York and said that Charlie Mingus and Max Roach were fed up with the Festival. They said they didn't believe in the idea of it. I went to Cliff Walk Manor and spoke to the owner, Nicholas Cannarozzi [about having an independent festival there with Mingus and Roach]. He was delighted with the idea and very cooperative.The Rebel Jazz Festival included Mingus, Roach [pictured], Ornette Coleman, Abbey Lincoln, Kenny Dorham, Jimmy Knepper, Roy Eldridge and Jo Jones. The music went unrecorded, so in November 1960, Nat Hentoff gathered the musicians and recorded them in a New York studio for his Candid label.
"It was a lovely setting, right beside the ocean. We were going to have this marvelous publicity. All these musicians sleeping in tents, the way it really should be, except that Charlie Mingus and Max Roach slept in the hotel. They were photographed putting their own stakes in for the tents. It was beautiful."
"There was a lot of intrigue, and they were suspicious that I was really only crossing them and going back and forth to George [Wein]. That was ridiculous. I was suing George and the Festival [after being voted off the board]. I wasn't about to jeopardize that."
How did Mingus wind up angry with the Newport Jazz Festival? According to an article in the Providence Evening Bulletin in 1960 (included in Goldblatt's book):
"The revolt got in motion two months ago when the Newport Festival, in a New York advertisement, listed Mingus as a 1960 performer at Freebody Park [where the festival was held in Newport]. Festival officials say Mingus had agreed over the telephone to appear for $700 but later insisted on $5,000, mentioning the Benny Goodman fee. Wein says Goodman received $7,500 for an entire evening's program and out of this paid his 17-man band, plus singer Jimmy Rushing."How did George Wein feel about the rival concert? I spoke with George about the Rebel Jazz Festival, Charles Mingus and what would have happened had the riot not occurred:
JazzWax: Did you and Charles Mingus have a falling out prior to the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival?
George Wein: Charlie Mingus was upset over money. So he and others grumbled about non-jazz acts appearing at the festival. I would have loved to have included everyone every year for 30 days straight for whatever amount they wanted. But we just couldn't. Our space, time and funds were limited.
JW: What was the Rebel Jazz Festival exactly?
GW: It was a masterpiece of public relations by Charles Mingus, who organized it, and the jazz musicians who played there. It was an alternative jazz festival, which today is commonplace. This may have been one of the first. All of the musicians who played there had worked for me appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival from the beginning in 1954.
JW: Did you hold a grudge against Mingus for staging the Rebel concert?
GW: Not at all. When I came back to Newport in 1962 to restart the festival, the first person I hired was Charlie Mingus. [Photo of Charles Mingus in 1962 at the Newport Jazz Festival by Jerry Corwin]
JW: Was Mingus’ beef with you over how much he was going to be paid to appear?
GW: Mingus had a beef about life. Mingus’ concern was getting the focus of attention. He was a brilliant musician who was the first to discover that if he talked enough he’d get more publicity. He was built-in copy for anyone writing an article about a concert.
JW: Did the Rebel Festival have anything to do with encouraging the mass influx of young people pouring into Newport?
GW: Not at all. Mingus’ festival attracted only 200 people to their festival at Cliff Walk Manor, which was located down by the beach. It was the last house on the right before you reached the water. But you couldn’t fit more than 500 people there.
JW: So what was the point?
GW: It was a symbolic thing. And a wonderful thing to do. It showcased a range of very talented musicians who we didn't have room for on our schedule.
JW: Did the Rebel Festival detract from the Newport Jazz Festival?
GW: It wasn’t a headache to me. The headache was the press harping that the Rebel Jazz Festival featured real jazz and the Newport Jazz Festival was the establishment. Which I understand because it made for great copy. But look, when you’re on top the way we were, that kind of thing comes with the territory.
JW: So the Rebel Festival didn’t cut into the Newport Jazz Festival or stir up the crowds?
GW: Not at all. The Rebel Jazz Festival was so small it wasn’t an issue. In terms of its appeal and success, we don’t know what that weekend would have been like if there hadn’t been a riot. I can tell you this: I would have unquestionably invited the Rebel Jazz Festival into the auspices of the Newport Jazz Festival at a second, larger location and sent more fans there.
JW: Would Mingus have gone for that?
GW: I'm sure he would have. Despite all the dust, I knew Mingus well. In 1962, when I produced his concert at Town Hall, he told me that he wanted the concert to be a stop-and-start recording session. His point was to show the audience what a recording session was like. But a paying audience doesn’t want to see a rehearsal. They want a concert.
JW: What did you say to him?
GW: I said, “What the hell are you doing?” Mingus said, “Don’t worry, George, we’re going to make a lot of money.” For Mingus, it was all part of the carnival, and this was true about the Rebel Jazz Festival. You had to go along with him because he happened to be a very talented musician.
JW: You really managed to keep calm through all of it.
GW: I learned over the years to react but not lose my cool. My reaction to a musician who pulled things like Mingus was never to say, “That guy will never work for me again.” I have a big ego, which you have to have in this business. But I have never felt I was more important than the artists appearing at my events or the music. [Pictured: George Wein with his wife Joyce in 1970]
JW: After the fuss settled after the 1960 riot, how did you manage to convince Newport to let you stage concerts there again, starting in 1962?
GW: The people there wanted the festivals. They wanted to see the stars, and local businesses made money. There were always town council members who resisted. It was a hot political issue for many years.
JW: What was the turning point?
GW: Eventually the town had a nonbinding referendum in a local election. The question was: "Do you approve of the annual jazz and folk festivals?" When the results were in, 70% approved of the jazz festival and 60% approved of the folk festival. We were amazed by that.
GW: I think many of us assumed that the riot had doomed us, that the community and the residents held us somehow responsible for what had happened that night, that somehow we had mismanaged things. The truth is we had nothing to do with the riot and didn't mismanage anything.
JW: In 1961, Newport turned to Sid Bernstein [pictured] to put on a music festival. How did it do?
GW: The festival went well but they didn’t know how to stage it profitably. They wound up losing money.
JW: What didn’t Bernstein understand?
GW: They didn’t know how to structure what they were doing. At the end, Sid said, “The only one who knows how to do this is George.” When I returned in 1962, I had no problem getting a license from the town.
JW: A pretty amazing comeback on your part, in a lifetime of comebacks.
GW: I know what I’ve done over my career, but I never believed it was that important except to the jazz world. I never believed I was a powerful person. Maybe that’s the secret to what I've managed to do. [Pictured: George Wein at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1967 by Jerry Corwin]
JazzWax tracks: There are two CDs that feature the exciting music of the Rebel Jazz Festival recorded by Nat Hentoff in Candid's studio in November 1960. They can be found here and here. I'm not sure why two different CDs feature completely different selections.
To hear the music of 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, including the July 3d blues concert the town permitted to take place after the riot, visit Wolfgang's Vault here.