August 23, 1957: At the North Shore Jazz Festival

The North Shore Jazz Festival, in Lynn, was the first Newport-like festival in Greater Boston, and it preceded the Boston Jazz Festival by two years. But Murphy’s Law was strictly enforced in August 1957, and as Down Beat noted, “One of the few things that didn’t happen at the North Shore Jazz festival in Lynn’s Manning Bowl was an invasion by Martians.”

North Shore Jazz Fest advertisement

Advertisement for the North Shore Jazz Festival, 1957

Producers Harold Leverant, James Donahue, and Charles Caruso assembled a stellar program for Lynn. They chose the Manning Bowl, Lynn’s football stadium with a seating capacity of around 20,000, as the site. The stage was erected at the west end of the field, with 3,000 more field-level seats added. The producers were hoping for an attendance of about 10,000 per night. Then Murphy went to work.

The unions at Boston’s newspapers went on strike on August 10, imposing a publicity blackout that radio could not offset. It was difficult to publicize late additions to the program, which included the Four Freshmen, June Christy, and Miles Davis—none of whom appear on the advertisement reproduced here. Without the local build-up, there was almost no national reverberation.

Then there was the weather, unseasonably cold on Friday, and raining or threatening rain all weekend.

The Friday chill kept attendance under 5,000. The crowd-pleasers were the Four Freshmen, and Mulligan’s quartet with Bob Brookmeyer and their unannounced special guest, Lee Konitz. The closer that night was the ineffable Dizzy Gillespie with his big band, which had people rushing to the stage and standing on their chairs; he plucked a 12-year-old from the crowd to lead the band on one number. People were shouting for more when the lights went out at one a.m.

Saturday’s crowd was close to 10,000. They heard a solid traditional set by Vic Dickenson and Bill Davison, and less successful big band sets by Maynard Ferguson and Herb Pomeroy. June Christy sang with Ferguson’s band. But the closing set, Stan Getz playing with the Pomeroy band, was limited to two numbers before the blue-law curfew of midnight ended it.

Sunday the weather turned wet again, with drenching rain, and shortly before noon Leverant moved the festival indoors. The only available venue was the Boston Arena, on St. Botolph Street in Boston, a long way from the Manning Bowl. That six to eight thousand souls made it there on such short notice was rather remarkable. But Murphy struck one last time, as the planned closer, the Miles Davis Quintet, was a no-show. George Shearing played a set heavy on Afro-Cuban rhythms, Sarah Vaughan (with Jimmy Jones, Richard Davis, and Roy Haynes) wailed on “How High the Moon,” and the Basie band, just voted the number one big band in the Down Beat critics poll, powered through a strong closing set.

Symphony Sid Torin of WBMS was the Sunday emcee, and it was his last time in the Boston spotlight before he departed for New York. Leverant presented Sid with a plaque thanking him for his five years of service to Boston jazz, and Sarah serenaded him with a farewell song. Then the Frantic One was gone.

“We’ll be back next year, bigger and better than ever,” Leverant told the crowd. But they weren’t. The financial hole was too deep, and there was no second North Shore Jazz Festival, in Lynn or anywhere else.

Mulligan and Getz had positive (if brief) turns at the festival, and here they are together with “That Old Feeling,” recorded about six weeks after Lynn.

3 thoughts on “August 23, 1957: At the North Shore Jazz Festival

  1. I attended that 8/23/57 Friday night concert. It’s funny – after all these years, the only music I can remember clearly is Dizzy’s big band, which was outstanding. It featured, as I recall, Lee Morgan, Phil Woods, Wynton Kelly and Charlie Persip. And a non-musical memory: since it was in an outdoor venue, we were allowed to wander around backstage before the concert. I remember Anita O’Day, dressed to kill as in “Jazz On A Summer’s Day”, standing there talking to Oscar Peterson and someone else, and so stoned she could hardly stand up. But laughing and joking, and in a great mood. And I’m sure she showed no signs of it when she went on. Ahh, the 50s.

    • Jon, I’ve only heard the recordings of that band, for ex. Dizzy in Greece, but it must have been a powerhouse. Benny Golson might have been on that band in Lynn, too.

      • I think you’re right; I believe both Billy Mitchell and Benny were the tenor soloists that night. I know Dizzy played Benny’s great
        composition/arrangement, “I Remember Clifford.” And Al Grey and Melba Liston were on trombones. Judging by the personnel listings on CDs of the band I have from that year, it’s possible that the alto soloist was Ernie Henry, not Phil Woods, even though Phil did play with the band around that time. Quite a band!

Comments are closed.