George Wein created the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 at the request of rich patrons of his Boston jazz membership. But the way in which Wein noticed it, the competition wasn’t simply informal weekend leisure for residents of the tony Rhode Island neighborhood — it was a paradise for like-minded music lovers, a venue for mingling soundtracked by essentially the most creative music of the day.
“I always say, I love jazz from ‘J’ to ‘Z,'” he mentioned within the 2015 interview. His love of the style and its musicians would outline his life.
“If you’ve been to a music festival you’ve experienced the influence of George Wein,” mentioned Jay Sweet, government producer of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, in an announcement to NCS.
A life outlined by jazz
By the time he was in center faculty, younger Wein had fashioned a jazz band that carried out in seedy bars round Massachusetts. He and his fellow younger musicians, most of them not sufficiently old to drink within the institutions the place they performed, have been paid measly sums for his or her performances, he mentioned within the Hamilton College interview. The experiences he had as a teen pianist have been formative, although, even when their performances often soundtracked bar brawls.
In 1944, Wein joined the US Army as a fight engineer, and he performed piano to flee punishment — the officers’ dances at all times wanted a pianist, he mentioned.
“Playing the piano had its plusses,” he mentioned within the Hamilton College interview.
Playing music within the navy was a “saving grace” for Wein, however when World War II ended and he’d graduated from Boston University, he realized enjoying music professionally would not be fulfilling. He’d identified so many musicians who’d mastered their craft however whose lives fell aside offstage, he mentioned.
“I think in seeing them drink in their rooms at night, you know, and so lonely and so out of it, I said, ‘I’m not sure that this is the life I really want, even though I love playing and I love the music,'” he mentioned within the Hamilton College interview.
Fully abandoning jazz was by no means an choice, although, so in 1950, with the restricted funds he’d saved from attending school via the GI Bill, Wein opened the Storyville jazz membership in Boston. He booked artists whose music he loved — and lots of of these artists grew to become the style’s best stars.
Storyville barely broke even each week, however it attracted an esteemed clientele, together with Elaine Lorillard. The rich socialite approached Wein about bringing jazz to her upscale neighborhood of Newport, Rhode Island. Wein did not know a lot about organizing concert events that might seat a metropolis’s value of company moderately than just a few dozen membership patrons, however he agreed.
Future editions of the jazz competition included performances from Miles Davis, Duke Ellington — who recorded a reside album at the competition in 1956 — and Billie Holiday, amongst many others. Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald would additionally launch an album collectively, recorded reside at the 1957 competition, earlier than Holiday’s demise. Later acts included Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Chick Corea.
Sweet, the chief producer of the Newport festivals, mentioned Wein was the embodiment of an “impresario.”
“He was an icon, a maverick, an artist, an activist, a philanthropist, a mentor, an inspiration and most importantly my friend,” Sweet mentioned. “He left an unrivaled legacy and it’s now our job to keep growing it.”
“Jazz has been my entire life,” he mentioned within the 2013 assertion. “It means everything. I learned so much from jazz that it’s affected me from that day right up until today — that’s a long time to be influenced by a great music.”