[Dixielandjazz] Founder of Newport Jazz festival Dies

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Nov 29 07:44:17 PST 2007

These days, not too many people realize how the Newport Jazz Festival (which
set the bar for subsequent jazz festivals) got started. RIP, Elaine
Lorillard, thank you for liking jazz.

Steve Barbone

Elaine Lorillard, 93, a Founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, Is Dead

NY TIMES - By DENNIS HEVESI - November 28, 2007

Elaine Lorillard, a socialite who with her husband, Louis, lured jazz greats
to their hometown in Rhode Island for a two-day concert series in the summer
of 1954, starting the Newport Jazz Festival and creating the model for what
became a worldwide circuit of outdoor jazz festivals, died on Monday near
her home in Newport. She was 93.

Her daughter, Didi Cowley, confirmed the death.

It was a casual remark during intermission at a classical concert in Newport
in 1953 that inspired the Lorillards to sponsor the first Newport Jazz
Festival. Mrs. Lorillard, already a jazz fan, was seated next to John Maxon,
then head of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.

³It¹s too bad we can¹t do something like this for jazz,² he said. ³That¹s
another music form that¹s worth a big-time festival.²

The Lorillards got in touch with George Wein, then the owner of a jazz club
in Boston, and asked him to produce that first festival. The Lorillards and
Mr. Wein, who went on to become a renowned jazz impresario, brought together
for the first concert series, among others: the Modern Jazz Quartet, the
Oscar Peterson Trio, the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, the Gerry Mulligan
Quartet, the George Shearing Quintet, the Erroll Garner Trio, the Gene Krupa
Trio and the singers Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

About 7,000 fans packed the grounds of the Newport Casino on the nights of
July 17 and 18 in 1954.

³Because it was held in Newport, it gave an aura of social distinction to
jazz that it had never had before,² Dan Morgenstern, director of the
Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, said in an interview

The Lorillards led the nonprofit Newport Jazz Festival foundation for six
years, providing financial support of their own and from their friends.

In 1960, when the Lorillards could no longer afford to support the festival,
Mr. Wein found money elsewhere and moved the concerts to Freebody Park, the
local municipal stadium. (His Festival Productions Inc., now a division of
the Festival Network, runs festivals around the world.)

For a time, rock music was part of the mix. That ended in 1971 when angry
fans, trying to see the Allman Brothers, crashed the gates. Festival
Productions moved the Newport festival to New York in 1972. A more
jazz-rooted festival later returned to Newport and is still held each

Elaine Guthrie was born in Tremont, Me., on Oct. 11, 1914, the daughter of
Walter and Eliza Pray Guthrie. Her father owned a printing company and her
mother was a professional pianist. Elaine Guthrie attended the New England
Conservatory of Music. But in 1943 she went to work for the Red Cross,
teaching music and painting to orphans in liberated Naples, Italy.

There she met United States Army Lt. Louis Lorillard, a descendant of Pierre
Lorillard, who founded the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company in 1760. They went
to ³underground jazz clubs together² in Naples, their daughter, Didi, said,
³and she fell in love with this fabulous music.² The Lorillards were married
in 1946, but later divorced. Mr. Lorillard died in 1986.

Besides her daughter, of Newport, Mrs. Lorillard is survived by a son,
Pierre, of Los Angeles, and two grandchildren.

Mr. Morgenstern of Rutgers, a friend of Mrs. Lorillard, said she never lost
her love of jazz. ³I saw her in clubs just a few years ago,² he said. 

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