“Music IS the Scene”: Jazz Fest’s First Decade, 1970-1979

This online exhibition features archival materials from Tulane University Special Collections related to the first decade, 1970-1979, of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, also known simply as Jazz Fest.

The physical exhibition, with additional materials, will be on view March 4 – May 27, 2022, in the Tulane University Special Collections Gallery, located in Jones Hall room 208A, 6801 Freret Street, New Orleans. For gallery hours and updates, click to library.tulane.edu/tusc-jazzfest.

Photo: Ernie K-Doe greets an audience at Jazz Fest (detail), 1976, photographer: Mark J. Sindler, Louisiana Image Collection LaRC-1081, Box 26, Folder 10, Tulane University Special Collections.

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Introduction

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is one of the top music festivals in the United States, generating millions of dollars and attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to New Orleans annually. Despite its worldwide acclaim, Jazz Fest remains a local favorite, as the event “promotes, preserves, perpetuates, and encourages the music, culture, and heritage of communities in Louisiana . . ..,” according to the mission of the festival, which is owned by the nonprofit New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

It started in 1970, when Richard “Dick” Allen, curator of the Archive of New Orleans Jazz at Tulane University, recommended Allison Miner, archive staff member, to George Wein, the founder of the Newport Jazz Festival. Wein was seeking young, music-loving people in New Orleans to help in his newest venture. Miner suggested that he also include her friend Quint Davis, a student at Tulane University. Both Davis and Miner would help produce and book the first Jazz Fest, a meager affair in Congo Square, then known as Beauregard Square. It did not make a profit. On its opening day, the event had more musicians and volunteers in attendance than audience members. As Miner recalled in Jazz Fest Memories, “The (first) festival was a labor of love. Quint and I didn’t even get paid.”

In 2019, Jazz Fest celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the spring 2020, spring 2021, and rescheduled fall 2021 iterations of the festival. However, event organizers have moved forward with plans to present the spring 2022 event at the Fair Grounds racetrack, the festival’s site since 1972.

Importantly, Jazz Fest’s labor of love continues, evident in its dedication to supporting the music culture of New Orleans and the surrounding region. At a February 20, 1970, press conference at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the French Quarter, Wein told reporters, “Such a festival could only be held in New Orleans. To say this city has a rich musical heritage is putting it mildly.” He described his vision of the event, stating, “Visitors will be able to stroll from area to area listening to jazz, or ragtime, or blues, or gospel music.” He added, “At a pop festival, the kids are part of the scene. At a jazz festival, music IS the scene.”

Enjoy this scene of the first decade of Jazz Fest.

-Melissa A. Weber
Curator, Hogan Archive of New Orleans Music and New Orleans Jazz, Tulane University Special Collections

Please note:
The physical and online gallery components of this exhibition include items that are part of Tulane University Special Collections holdings. There are many artists, people, and stories of Jazz Fest’s first decade that we could not include because TUSC does not currently have materials which represent them. To help us fill the gaps, we welcome you to consider collection and item donations. To learn more, please email mweber3@tulane.edu.

 

References

First-person quotes and some research for this exhibition come from the following sources:

Clifford, Jan, et al. The Incomplete, Year-by-Year Selectively Quirky, Prime Facts Edition of the History of The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Edited by Kevin McCaffrey, E/Prime Publications, 2005.
Kolb, Judy. “N.O. to host jazz feast.” Vieux Carré Courier, 20 February 1970.
Smith, Michael P., and Allison Miner. Jazz Fest Memories, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc., 1997.

 

Call for Crowdsourcing

Can you identify anyone in the photos? Is a name missing from the photo caption or credit? Email mweber3@tulane.edu to help update the metadata.

Exhibit Sections