George Wein, whose Newport Jazz Festival inspired modern music festivals, dies at 95


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.

“Outdoors created that feeling,” he said in a 2015 interview. “And festivals, to this day, even though they’re not jazz festivals — that’s the attraction. They’re a meeting place for people.”
Festivals from Woodstock to Coachella have adopted the instance set by Wein’s jazz competition. Before headliners included rap stars and rock acts, although, Wein recruited the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. He oversaw the competition — and a number of other others — for many years, refusing to decelerate till his 90s.

“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.

Wein, who acquired an honorary Grammy in 2015 for pioneering the idea of music festivals, died this week, household spokesperson Carolyn McNair confirmed. He was 95.

“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

Wein’s musical profession began out when he was a tot within the Thirties, singing requirements on the radio whereas his mom accompanied him on piano. He skilled in classical piano as a boy, which he preferred nicely sufficient till his older brother introduced residence a Louis Armstrong file. His instant affinity for these early jazz data set the course of his life, he advised Hamilton College in a 2001 interview for its jazz archives.

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.

George Wein performs on stage during the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.George Wein performs on stage during the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

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.

“I was interested in playing as many of the jazz greats as possible,” he mentioned in a 2008 interview with journalist Marc Myers of the weblog JazzWax. “I didn’t look at the box office results, really.”

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.

“I saw it as an opportunity to promote jazz on a large scale and expose people of all ages to this great music,” he told JazzWax in 2008. “For the first time, people who didn’t go to clubs or couldn’t get in because they were too young now could see and hear the music and musicians live, outside, in a relaxed, laid-back setting.”
George Wein (right) laughs with Louis Armstrong (center) and trumpeter Bobby Hackett at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival.George Wein (right) laughs with Louis Armstrong (center) and trumpeter Bobby Hackett at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival.
Wein said he borrowed ideas “from the medieval days of festivals,” however his first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 grew to become the blueprint for future music festivals, with its out of doors setting, its vary of musicians and annual summertime staging.

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.

In 1959 — the identical yr he married the Black biochemist Joyce Alexander — Wein launched the Newport Folk Festival, which has hosted artists as disparate as Joan Baez, the Pixies and Dolly Parton. Though it is since expanded to incorporate nation and indie rock artists, at the 1965 competition, Bob Dylan shocked devoted folksters when he started wailing on an electric guitar. As Wein wrote in his 2004 autobiography, the second ushered in a brand new period of the style: “Rock and roll was no longer taboo; if Dylan could cross that line, so could [folk fans].”
George Wein poses at his New York apartment in 2004.George Wein poses at his New York apartment in 2004.
Over the a long time that adopted, Wein helped create a number of different music festivals, just like the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Essence Music Festival, via his company Festival Productions. And although he ultimately handed over the reins of the Newport Jazz Festival to youthful organizers, he remained instrumental in competition operations. His successor as creative director, Christian McBride, known as him the “guiding light for every person who runs a major festival.”

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.”

Wein hardly slowed down over time. When Joyce died in 2005, Wein established a prize in her title, the Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize, which awards $50,000 to revolutionary Black artists via the Studio Museum Harlem. In 2013, at age 88, he carried out a live performance at Lincoln Center in New York with a solid of “Newport All-Stars.” In a statement ahead of the efficiency, Wein declared that (*95*) — a becoming sentiment for a person who devoted virtually all of his life to the style.

“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.”



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