The History of Monday Night Jazz in Hartford
Since 1967 the Monday Night Jazz Series has brought world famous musicians and local aspiring artists together in downtown Hartford for free concerts during July and August. These concerts provide access to the arts for audiences of all ages in central Hartford, help sustain jazz as a living art form, and invigorate the cultural community by promoting quality, diversity and economic growth.
How it Happened
In 1964 a group of local Hartford residents developed a social and cultural awareness program that would enrich the lives of residents in the North Hartford area. This group, Garden Area Neighborhood Council, also provided an interesting and educational environment for local community youth. These young people received music instruction, and local musicians were provided a place to explore their musical creativity. Neighborhood jazz teachers would also perform for the students.
Mondays soon became weekly jam session nights. Professionals playing in New York and Boston clubs on weekends would stop by the Center on Mondays to jam with the local musicians.
With the Council’s backing in 1967, Paul Brown, jazz bassist, founded what is now known as Monday Night Jazz, but was then called the Hartford Festival of Jazz. Festival performances took place on Monday nights, initially at the Garden Area Center. To accommodate the large number of fans that began turning out, the concerts were moved to various outdoor locations in Hartford, finally finding their permanent home in historic Bushnell Park.
Garden Area’s first outdoor concert was held in the predominately African-American North End section of Hartford. The great saxophonist, Cannonball Adderley, performed with his Quintet on Barbour Street. The 2nd concert had a blues rooted style by Muddy Waters and his Blues Band. The final concert in 1967 was Clark Terry’s Big Band wailing away in the yard of Fred D. Wish School.
Garden Area’s youth group, the Coming Storm, five novice musicians ranging in age from 10 to 15, was considered one of the best local groups at the Hartford Festival of Jazz. Jazz great Thad Jones was moved to tears when he heard the youngsters play one of his compositions at a summer concert. Back then, the members had only been playing music for six months to a year. They included in their repertoire such sophisticated numbers as Ellington’s Satin Doll; Nardis, a Miles Davis ballad; Mr. P.C. by John Coltrane and Paul’s Pal by Paul Chambers.
In 1991, after much research on weekend jazz festivals in the country, Paul focused on a summer weekend event that would spark additional economic gain to the downtown area. Around the same time, a Silver Anniversary celebration was planned for the Hartford Festival of Jazz 25th year. To accommodate the weekend festival, Paul changed the name of the Monday concerts to the Monday Night Jazz Series. Paul’s newly created weekend jazz festival would later become the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz. In 1992, the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz began its first four-day celebration featuring aspiring youth, local musicians and the internationally famous Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Saxophonist Frank Foster.
Oldest Free, Continuously Run Jazz Festival
In May 1999, the Monday Night Jazz Series was recognized as a New England Legacy and is now in the Library of Congress as the oldest free continuously run JAZZ FESTIVAL in the nation.
Paul Brown retired from producing Monday Night Jazz at the end of the 2007 series, and is now very busy touring as a performer. At the request of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, The Hartford Jazz Society took over production, starting with Monday Night Jazz 2008. The HJS remains true to Paul Brown’s goals of access for inner city residents, diversity, quality, and economic development.
Paul had retired some years earlier from the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz. That event is produced by its own Board of Directors and volunteers, and is not connected either with Paul Brown or with The Hartford Jazz Society.