[JPL] Wein works to preserve the Newport festival legacy

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Fri Sep 5 10:12:04 EDT 2008


Wein works to preserve the Newport festival legacy
By CHARLES J. GANS ­ 17 hours ago
NEWPORT, R. I. (AP) ‹ For the first time since he founded the Newport Jazz
Festival, George Wein didn't have to sign any checks or worry about how the
fickle weather might affect the bottom line. Instead, his biggest concern at
the recent festival was whether he could keep up on piano with his Newport
All-Stars band during their set on the main stage that preceded performances
by Herbie Hancock and Sonny Rollins.
But though the 82-year-old Wein sold his festival production company last
year, he is still very much a force in producing jazz events, not only
working to preserve the Newport festival's legacy but even starting a new
concert series at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall in memory of Joyce Wein, his
wife and business partner for nearly half a century.
"I have no problem working. ... As long as I can breathe, I will be involved
with Newport because that to me is the holy grail of jazz festivals," said
Wein, interviewed behind the main stage at Fort Adams State Park during last
month's festival. "The image of Newport relates so strongly to what I've
created all these years that I will never let that go. ...
"There's one burden that I have been eased with greatly. ... I don't pick up
the losses, I don't worry about profits. So I enjoy the festival for what it
is," said Wein, sporting a madras patchwork cap and speaking with a
distinctive Boston accent.
Wein, a jazz pianist-turned-impresario, was running Boston's Storyville jazz
club, when Newport socialite Elaine Lorillard walked in one night and
invited him to present some jazz to liven up the summer social season. Wein
ended up putting the affluent Rhode Island seaside town on the popular
cultural map by organizing what would be the world's first outdoor jazz
festival in 1954 with such luminaries as Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Dizzy
Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald.
Wein would go on to create such other landmark cultural events as the
Newport Folk Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the
Playboy Jazz Festival, eventually establishing his own company Festival
Productions Inc. that produced jazz events around the world.
But last year, Wein decided to sell his company, while staying on with the
new owners, the Festival Network LLC, focusing his attention on the two
festivals he feels closest to ‹ Newport and the JVC Jazz Festival New York ‹
an event he created under different sponsorship in 1972, a year after
gate-crashing rioters forced the Newport festival to be canceled until its
return in 1982.
Wein has already started booking next year's festivals, working with their
new artistic director Jason Olaine, Festival Network's vice president for
"I think of George as a professor because he's got facts and figures and all
the historic knowledge in his brain," said the 40-year-old Olaine, who
previously worked as the artistic director at Yoshi's jazz club in San
Francisco and as a producer at Verve Records. "He's been here since the
beginning so he knows what ... artists the audiences are looking for. ....
When George wants someone, they're in. I think it's my role as the new
artistic director to shake things up a little bit ... but not stray too far
away from a formula that's been working."
When Olaine had one last slot to fill for Sunday's closing concert, he asked
Wein to perform with his Newport All-Stars ‹ a festival tradition dating
back to the '50s. Olaine insisted that the festival's founder perform on the
main Newport stage rather than one of the two smaller stages.
Wein's earlier Newport All-Stars bands had featured musicians who were more
his contemporaries and comfortable with the pre-1950s swing style he grew up
playing. But at Newport, his All-Stars lineup featured two up-and-coming
jazz stars ‹ bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, the youngest member at
23, and Israeli clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen ‹ as well as two
distinguished veterans, the versatile guitarist Howard Alden and drummer
Jimmy Cobb, the last surviving musician from Miles Davis' 1959 "Kind of
Blue" album.
"I enjoy a festival but there's still nothing like playing with musicians
that you develop a family relationship," said Wein. "I got to keep on my
toes to play with these kids because they want to wail when they go up
there. ... and believe me it's a challenge."
Wein now is putting together a different Newport All-Stars band for a Nov.
4-9 engagement at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center that will
feature a veteran front-line with tenor saxophonist-flutist Lew Tabackin and
trumpeter Randy Sandke.
Wein realized early on that he'd never be the greatest jazz pianist after
hearing Art Tatum, but he discovered his true calling as an impresario while
still a college student in 1949 when his bandleader, clarinetist Edmond
Hall, asked him to negotiate a raise with a reluctant Boston club owner and
he ended up producing concerts himself.
Wein hasn't lost his passion for producing. In September 2007, he organized
an all-star benefit concert at Boston's Symphony Hall with Herbie Hancock,
Branford Marsalis. Roy Haynes, Joe Lovano and other jazz stars to establish
a scholarship fund for promising young jazz musicians at the Berklee College
of Music named after his wife who died of cancer in 2005.
Wein recently announced that he will be producing a concert series in honor
of his wife, which he hopes will become an annual event on the Carnegie Hall
"I wanted to do that because some people thought when I sold my company that
I'm not active, but I'm just as active both with my company and on my own,"
Wein said.
The three concerts for the 2008-9 season will feature the Dominican-born
pianist Michel Camilo who melds jazz with Afro-Cuban rhythms (Nov. 13);
conductor-composer-pianist Andre Previn leading a jazz trio as part of his
80th birthday celebrations (Feb. 19); and a concert titled "To Joyce With
Love" (April 2) featuring Wein on piano with an all-star cast of their jazz
musician friends.
"Jazz brought Joyce and me together, but it was pure love that kept us
together," said Wein, who first met Joyce Alexander at a jazz concert in
1947. The couple wed in 1959 at a time when interracial marriages were rare
and even banned in some states.
"We're picking tunes that she loved. ... the music of Duke Ellington and
Count Basie, and Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong ... Thelonious Monk and
Dizzy Gillespie," said Wein, speaking in a follow-up interview by phone from
a cruise ship in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Denmark where he had just
given an impromptu performance for his fellow passengers.
"I just think it's the right thing to do that I recognize what she meant to
me all my life. I didn't have a home life and a business life, everything
was together. ... I think our partnership in life had meaning to so many

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