As a fundraiser for its music department, Morgan State College (now Morgan State University) held a jazz festival in the summer of 1969. The headliners ranged from the pop-oriented to the seriously hard-core, and it must have been a great weekend.
Headlining Friday night was the South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, riding the popularity of his crossover instrumental, “Grazin’ in the Grass.” Another pop instrumental act, Booker T and the MG’s, also appeared, featuring the talents of guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn who, along with leader Booker T. Jones, formed the rhythm section on so many Memphis soul classics by acts like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave. Cropper and Dunn also famously formed the backbone of the then-ubiquitous Blues Brothers phenomena of the late 1970’s and early ’80’s.
The serious jazz portion of the evening’s program was served by Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan. Rounding out the bill was the big band of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, then in its infancy.
Saturday night brought out a more jazz-heavy lineup, with headliners Miles Davis and singer Nina Simone. Miles brought his “lost” quintet, featuring pianist Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter on tenor, Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. This was the transitional band between his great mid-60’s group and the “Bitches Brew” band, and must have been something to behold in a live setting.
The amazing multi-instrumental Roland Kirk was on hand, before he adopted the “Rahsaan” prefix, as was a young George Benson, still deeply into serious jazz guitar playing and years ahead of his later pop success. Young-Holt Unlimited were the concession to pop music for the night, although their jazz chops were prodigious. After leaving Ramsey Lewis, they were touring to promote their hit “Soulful Strut.”
In a nod to more mainstream tastes, the Festival concluded with Newport Jazz Festival impresario George Wein’s Newport All Stars, featuring producer Wein on piano, the great Tal Farlow on guitar, veteran Red Norvo on vibes, trumpeter Ruby Braff and a rhythm section of bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Don Lamond.
This is a re-creation of the actual poster used to promote that weekend’s performance, and it’s a great souvenir for those of you lucky enough to have attended. It’s also a great gift for any jazz lover.