Failure to fuse

The jazz-rock culture war at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival


  • Matt Brennan



fusion, jazz criticism, jazz-rock, Ken Burns, Newport Jazz Festival, rock criticism


Festivals play a central role in popular music mythology. In 1969, the Newport Jazz Festival made headlines when producer George Wein controversially announced his intention to openly incorporate rock acts, including Sly and the Family Stone and Led Zeppelin, into the jazz festival. Newport 1969 is retrospectively represented as a symbol of the problems of integrating jazz and rock, but a critical examination of the festival and its coverage clearly illustrates how distinctions between jazz and rock—and jazz and rock audiences, for that matter—are socially constructed. This article will reconsider the importance of Newport 1969 by revisiting debates occurring in the pages of Down BeatRolling StoneJazz and Pop, and other music journalism during 1969 which discussed the merits of a merger between jazz and rock, and proposes that Newport 1969 was a watershed that exposed the key tensions in the emerging culture war between the two genres.


Ake, David (2002) Jazz Cultures. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Brennan, Matt (2007) ‘Down Beats and Rolling Stones: The American Jazz Press Decide to Cover Rock in 1967’. Popular Music History 1/3: 263–84.

Burks, John (1968) ‘The Monterey Jazz Festival’. Rolling Stone, 9 November: 14.

Christgau, Robert (1973) Any Old Way You Choose It. Baltimore: Penguin.

Feather, Leonard (1968) ‘Pop=Rock=Jazz: A False Musical Equation Dissected’. Down Beat Music ’68.

Fellezs, Kevin (2004) ‘Between Rock and a Jazz Place: Intercultural Interchange in Fusion Musicking’. PhD dissertation: University of California, Santa Cruz.

Gendron, Bernard (2002) Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press.

Gennari, John (2004) ‘Hipsters, Bluebloods, Rebels, and Hooligans: The Cultural Politics of the Newport Jazz Festival, 1954–1960’. In Robert G. O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, and Farah Jasmine Griffin, eds, Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies. New York: Columbia University Press.

Gitler, Ira, and Dan Morgenstern (1969) ‘Rock at Newport ’69: Big Crowds, Bad Vibes’. Down Beat, 21 August: 25–26, 31, 45.

Gleason, Ralph. (1967a) ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. Jazz and Pop, September: 14.

——(1967b) ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. Jazz and Pop, November: 12.

——(1968) ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. Jazz and Pop, December: 14.

——(1969a) ‘Buddy Rich: A Note of Hope’. Jazz and Pop, January: 39.

——(1969b) ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. Jazz and Pop, February: 12.

——(1969c) ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. Jazz and Pop, April: 14.

Goldblatt, Burt (1977) Newport Jazz Festival: The Illustrated History. New York: Dial Press.

Heineman, Alan, and Dan Morgenstern (1969) ‘Rock, Jazz, and Newport: An Exchange’. Down Beat, 25 December: 22–23.

Hodenfield, Jan (1969) ‘The Newport Folk Festival’. Rolling Stone, 23 August: 20.

Jurek, Tom (2006) ‘Bitches Brew’. website:

Kofsky, Frank (1968) ‘The Scene’. Jazz and Pop, January: 36–39.

Landau, Jon (1968) ‘What’s Wrong With Rock “Art”’. Rolling Stone, 20 July: 18–20.

——(1972) It’s Too Late to Stop Now. San Francisco: Straight Arrow.

Lindberg, Ulf, Gestur Guomundsson, Morten Michelsen, and Hans Weistethaunet (2005) Rock Criticism from the Beginning: Amusers, Bruisers, and CoolHeaded Cruisers. New York: Peter Lang.

Marcus, Greil, ed. (1969) Rock and Roll Will Stand. Boston: Beacon Press.

Morgenstern, Dan (1967) ‘A Message to Our Readers’. Down Beat, 29 June: 13.

——(1969) ‘1968: The Year That Was’. Down Beat Music ’69.

Nicholson, Stuart (1998) Jazz-Rock: A History. New York: Schirmer.

——(2002) ‘Fusions and Crossovers’. In Mervyn Cooke and David Horn, eds, The Cambridge Companion to Jazz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

——et al. (2002) ‘The Song of the Body Electric: Jazz-Rock’. In Yuval Taylor, ed., The Future of Jazz. Chicago: A Cappella.

Norris, John (1969) ‘Newport ’69’. Coda, August: 13–15.

Porter, Eric (2001) ‘”It’s About That Time”: The Response to Miles Davis’s Electric Turn’. In Gerald Early, ed., Miles Davis and American Culture. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press.

Rivelli, Pauline (1967) Editorial. Jazz and Pop, August: 5, 17.

——(1969) ‘Newport Jazz Festival 1969’. Jazz and Pop, September: 31–33.

Rolling Stone (1969a) ‘Jazz Meets Rock’. Rolling Stone, 1 March: 6.

——(1969b) ‘Jazz Takes Gas at Fillmore’. Rolling Stone, 19 April: 10.

——(1969c) Sun Ra cover. Rolling Stone, 19 April.

——(1969d) ‘Rock Too Much for Newport’. Rolling Stone, 9 August: 10, 38.

Ward, Geoffrey C. (2000) Jazz: A History of America’s Music. New York: Knopf.

Wein, George (1969a) ‘An Interview with George Wein’. Jazz and Pop, April: 44–47.

——(1969b) ‘Newport Jazz Festival Program Notes’.

——[with Nate Chinen] (2004) Myself Among Others: A Life in Music. Cambridge: Da Capo.

Williams, Martin (1968) ‘Bystander’. Down Beat, 27 June: 15.

Wilson, John S. (1969) ‘Unruly Newport Fans Upset Newport Jazz Festival’. New York Times, 7 July: 28.

Wilson, Russ (1967) ‘The Future of Jazz: On The Rocks?’ Down Beat, 15 June: 17.



How to Cite

Brennan, M. (2007). Failure to fuse: The jazz-rock culture war at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival. Jazz Research Journal, 1(1), 73–98.