'Ohio Valley Jazz Festival' Book Looks At Cincinnati's Music Legacy

Jul 28, 2017

This one was for Dad. And the Santangelo family.

Scott Santangelo's new book, "The Ohio Valley Jazz Festival," is a tribute to his father, promoter Dino Santangelo, who created the summer jazz festival in 1962 which morphed into the city's huge R&B weekend.

Part of Arcadia Publishing's "Images of Modern America" series, the book covers the first 25 years – until Dino's death in 1986 -- in words and photos. Scott talks about his book, and his father, with me on "Around Cincinnati" 7-8 p.m. Sunday July 30 on WVXU-FM, WMUB-FM and at WVXU.org.

1964 Ohio Valley Jazz Festival lineup

Dino knew music from playing trumpet and piano at Purcell High School and the University of Cincinnati. As a UC junior, he started his career as part-time press agent for the old Sheraton Gibson Hotel across from Fountain Square (where the Westin was built).  That led to doing public relations for hotels, restaurants, clubs and the Beverly Hills Supper Club.

So how did the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival end up in Cincinnati, of all places?

After the Sheraton Corporation bought the resort in French Lick, Indiana, Santangelo and the corporate entertainment director invited Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein to do a jazz weekend at French Lick. Wein's 1958 jazz weekend completely overwhelmed French Lick, so Santangelo suggested it move to his hometown. 

The Ohio Valley Jazz Festival was born Aug. 24-26, 1962, at Carthage Fairgrounds. The lineup was amazing: Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Roy Eldridge, Horace Silver, and Coleman Hawkins.

It quickly outgrew the fairgrounds, so in 1964 the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival moved to Crosley Field for Armstrong, Ellington, Brubeck, John Coltrane, Count Basie, Lou Rawls, Aretha Franklin, Dizzie Gilliespie, Sarah Vaughn and Woody Herman. Tickets were $6, $5, $4.50 and $3.50.

Music Hall operations director Scott Santangelo watched the removal of the Music Hall chandelier in 2016.
Credit Provided by Scott Santagelo

Santangelo's book includes photos of Ellington, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Dionne Warwick, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Ashford & Simpson, Charlie Wilson, and Luther Vandross; copies of old tickets and advertisements; the stage in front of the Crosley Field scoreboard; and photos of the crowds at Riverfront Stadium, where the jazz festival moved in 1971.

"At the time of his death in 1986, (Dino) Santangelo was among the nation's leading specialists in the presentation of music festivals, pioneering techniques in multi-act stadium and coliseum production, that became industry standards," Scott wrote in "The Ohio Valley Jazz Festival."

Advertisement for 1958 French Lick Music Festivals

His father also was a force for integration. The book notes that Ellington's 1964 contract stipulated that "it is mutually understood by all parties concerned that the artist or artists have prerogative of cancelling this contract if any instance an audience is segregated because of race or color."

As the lineup evolved over the years "toward mainstream R&B, the festivals bridged cultural divides and eased racial tensions through the common denominators of popular music and an undeniable positive economic impact," he wrote.

"I did this for my father, and for the family," saids Santangelo, director of Music Hall operations for the Cincinnati Arts Association. The photos will be donated to the Cincinnati Historical Society, he said.

Tune in 7 p.m. Sunday to hear Scott talk about the book on "Around Cincinnati."

And to hear some great behind-the-scenes stories about the jazz festival, and how it morphed into the Cincinnati Music Festival, catch my one-hour interview with Joe Santangelo (Scott's uncle and Dino's younger brother) repeating on Saturday.  "Joe Santangelo: Six Decades of Rock, R&B and All That Jazz" airs 11 p.m. Saturday, July 29, on WVXU-FM, WMUB-FM and at WVXU.org.