August 8, 1969: Jazz Concert at Castle Hill
Summertime jazz finally went outdoors to stay in 1954, courtesy of the Newport Jazz Festival and Jazz Night at the Boston Arts Festival. In 1955, Castle Hill, on the Crane Estate in Ipswich, joined the al fresco party. Their venerable classical concert series invited a jazz band for the first time. The band was Louis Armstrong’s.
Series organizers wanted jazz, but not just any jazz. They wanted mainstream names with crossover appeal who wouldn’t rock the suburban boat. Still, not everyone associated with Castle Hill embraced the idea of jazz concerts, and Count Basie’s contract couldn’t be signed in 1956 until background checks on performers were completed. When asked if this was prompted by concern over subversive influences, the concert organizer responsible replied, “no comment.” What, I wonder, was he afraid of—Dope? African-Americans? Beatniks? All of the above?
In Basie’s Old Testament days, Jimmy Rushing sang “Baby, Don’t You Tell on Me.” Perhaps the Count called it at Castle Hill.
In 1958, Duke Ellington made the first of three Castle Hill appearances. This was also the first year the Castle Hill jazz weekend overlapped with Newport. Ellington in 1958, and George Shearing and Dave Brubeck in 1959, were in Ipswich one night and Newport the next. But series planners at Castle Hill didn’t see themselves competing with Newport for audience.
In 1960, the Crane Foundation asked George Wein to program the entire concert series—classical, jazz, folk, pop—with the intent of broadening the audience. The 1960 concert series was successful and Wein was asked to return in 1961. That year he produced a series that ranged from guitarist Carlos Montoya to the Kingston Trio to the pianos of Ferrante & Teicher. The jazz weekend presented Ellington, Brubeck, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. An additional jazz concert featured the Ahmad Jamal Trio. Concerts, which had been held in the 1700-seat Italian Garden, were moved to the Grand Allée, the magnificent lawn that slopes to the sea, which could seat three times that number.
Click to view the 1961 concert series program.
The 1961 series was enormously successful, drawing crowds in excess of 6,000, even reaching 7,000. In fact, the series was too successful—thousands of hipsters on the Castle lawn was too much for the concert committee, who decided to un-broaden the audience and end their association with Wein.
Jazz was back at Castle Hill late in the decade—a Teddy Wilson quartet in 1967, Ellington in 1968, and Nina Simone in 1969. Her opening act on the first of two nights was the Gary Burton Quartet, and on the second, good old George Wein and the Newport All Stars. Jazz weekends were discontinued in the 1970s.
Music has been a part of Castle Hill’s summer for decades. It still is. But the summers when the international stars of jazz dropped by for the weekend are all in the past.
Special thanks to Dakota Jackson of the Archives & Research Center at the Trustees of Reservations for assistance in creating this post.
There are so many musical possibilities here…how about going with the local guy? Here is the Gary Burton Quartet in 1968, with Strayhorn’s “African Flower.” The guitarist is Jerry Hahn, with Steve Swallow on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. At Castle Hill, Bill Goodwin played drums.