One of the great things about living here in beautiful Jamestown is the proximity to Newport, a true gem of a small city. Newport has just about every cultural and general amenity one could want. We have easy access to those amenities via bridge and boat. Yet Newport, at times, seems to be a world away from our bucolic island.
The attractions of Newport include its beaches, 18th century architectural treasures, and its cultural institutions. For some, the jazz and folk festivals have provided peak experiences.
One abiding memory is of a balmy night at venerable Freebody Park in the mid-1960s. The Newport city fathers had, reluctantly, and with conditions, allowed the jazz festival to return after a hiatus imposed because of a “riot” during (but not at) one of an earlier year’s performances.
One of the principal conditions imposed upon the permit granted to festival promoter George Wein was a curfew. The music had to stop at 11 p.m.
The evening’s performance was something my friends, all teenagers, had long anticipated. And we were not disappointed. The program was packed with great performances, and culminated with a truly hot set by master organist and band leader, Jimmy Smith. As the curfew approached, Smith had a crowd dancing in the aisles, and the entire audience cheering along with chorus after chorus of spectacular riffs on Smith’s organ.
One could see, off to the side of the stage, standing in the wings, a visibly agitated George Wein, trying to signal Jimmy Smith to wind up his set. But Smith was in the zone, feeding off his own muse and encouraged by the crowd’s intense reaction to the music the band was creating. The riffs continued despite Wein’s gesturing.
Finally, George Wein made the classic finger-drawnacross the-throat gesture, and a stage hand pulled the plug cutting off the power to Smith’s Hammond B-3 organ.
Despite the abrupt ending, we went home ecstatic, knowing that we had witnessed a truly great show. It was one of many attended in Newport over the years.
That’s the way, 50 years later, that I remember that night. Accurate, or, more likely, somewhat skewed by time, it is a treasured memory.