Flashback: Laying the groundwork for the Atlanta Jazz Festival, 1966

It was the first step in hopes of establishing Atlanta as “the festival city of the Southeast”
Atlanta Jazz Festival
Louis Armstrong

Photograph by AP Images

The list of acts read like a jazz aficionado’s fantasy dinner party: Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Buddy Rich, and more. Organized by the Atlanta Braves in the team’s new 51,000-seat stadium, the three-day event was intended to rival Rhode Island’s famed Newport Jazz Festival as one of several showcases that would establish Atlanta as “the festival city of the Southeast,” the Atlanta Constitution reported. Only 18,000 tickets were allotted to “insure [sic] everyone has a good seat.” Come the night of the first show, before which Armstrong signed autographs for fans backstage, only 4,321 fans showed up—a fraction of the 25,000 that had attended a large Easter service at the stadium three months before, or the 34,000 shrieking teens that greeted the Beatles one year prior. Rain was the culprit, though it did not dampen the audience’s enthusiasm. Another festival was held the following year, laying the groundwork for mayor Maynard Jackson to later launch the city’s own—and free—Atlanta Jazz Festival, which has been held annually since 1978 and starts this year on May 26.

This article appears in our May 2018 issue.