One of the unlikely landmarks of the early years of television was Art Ford’s Jazz Party, a weekly jam session that debuted in May 1958 on WNTA, a New York area independent station. The show, broadcast from an upstairs studio in Newark’s Mosque Theater (now Symphony Hall) was a loose, unrehearsed jam session that featured some of the biggest names in jazz in a bare-bones setting put the music front and center.
The 90-minute broadcasts were presided over by Art Ford, a disc jockey, radio host and television personality who took pride in the show’s integrated lineup — something that may have contributed to the show’s abbreviated run. The show’s high point was probably a jam featuring saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Lineups were usually beefed up with local jazz players who relished the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan and Mary Osborne. Though acclaimed by critics and jazzbos, Art Ford’s Jazz Party ended its run on Christmas Day 1958, and Ford’s star fell not long after.