George Wein, Jazz Festival Trailblazer, Is Dead at 95

He also discovered brand-new sponsors for the Newport Jazz Festival, first a medical equipment company and later an asset management company, Natixis, to replace his longtime corporate partner, JVC. The folk festival, whose sponsors over the last few years had actually consisted of Ben & Jerry’s and Dunkin Donuts, had by then been without sponsorship for several years. Both celebrations were later partly sponsored by the fashion jewelry company Alex and Ani.

George Wein, the impresario who nearly solitarily turned allure celebration into an around the world phenomenon, passed away on Monday at his apartment or condo in Manhattan. He was 95. His death was revealed by a spokeswoman, Carolyn McClair.

Jazz festivals were not a completely originality when Wein was approached about presenting a weekend of jazz in the open air in Newport, R.I., in 1954. There had been erratic attempts at such events, especially in both Paris and Nice in 1948. However there had actually been nothing as enthusiastic as the celebration Wein staged that July on the premises of the Newport Casino, an athletic complex near the historical estates of Bellevue Avenue.

With a lineup consisting of Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, and other stars, the inaugural Newport Jazz Festival drew thousands of paying clients over two days and drew in the attention of the news media.

It barely broke even. Wein later on remembered that it earned a profit of $142.50, which it wound up in the black just because he waived his $5,000 producer’s fee. But it achieved success enough to warrant a return engagement, and soon the Newport festival had actually developed itself as a jazz institution, and as a design template for how to present music in the open air on a grand scale.

The 2 Newport celebrations had been developed as nonprofit endeavors, however in 1960 Wein formed a corporation, Festival Productions, to run what quickly became an around the world empire. At the business’ height it was producing celebrations and tours in some 50 cities worldwide. Over the years he likewise tried his hand at personal management and record production.

Wein experienced some rough times in the early years of the Newport Jazz Festival. City officials shut the Newport Jazz Festival down, although the Mingus-Roach occasion was allowed to continue. As a result of the rioting, Wein’s license was withdrawn, and he did not go back to Newport in 1961.

A festival billed as Music at Newport, staged by another promoter and including a variety of music consisting of some jazz, existed in its location but was not effective.

Wein was enabled back the next year, and the festival continued without incident up until completion of the years. Protection of Wein in allure press grew more negative with time, and the criticism would persist for the rest of his career. In 1959, the critic Nat Hentoff called the Newport Jazz Festival a “sideshow” that had “absolutely nothing to do with the future of jazz”.

Hentoff later on changed his tune. In 2001 he composed that Wein had “expanded the audience for jazz more than any other promoter in the musics history”. Wein was sometimes attacked as exploitive, money-hungry, unimaginative in his programs and too happy to present non-jazz artists at his jazz festivals, criticism first heard when he booked Chuck Berry at Newport in 1958, and heard once again when he booked the similarity Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, and even the folk group the Kingston Trio (who performed at both the folk and jazz festivals in 1959).

He professed to take the criticism in stride, however in his autobiography he left no doubt that he had actually forgotten none of it, quoting a lot of his worst notices and patiently describing why they were wrong. In addition, the jazz festival returned to Newport in 1981 and the folk festival in 1985, both once again under Wein’s auspices. He was honored by 2 presidents, Jimmy Carter in 1978 and Bill Clinton in 1993, at all-star White House jazz shows celebrating the anniversary of the very first Newport Jazz Festival.

The success of Wein’s Boston club, Storyville, called after the red-light district of New Orleans where legend has it jazz was born, led Elaine Lorillard, a wealthy Newport resident, to approach him about producing what became the very first Newport Jazz Festival, which she and her spouse, Louis, financed.

And the success of that celebration determined the directions his career would take. George Theodore Wein was born on Oct. 3, 1925, in Lynn, Mass., near Boston, and grew up in the close-by town of Newton. His dad, Barnet, was a physician.

His mother, Ruth, was an amateur pianist. Both his parents, he recalled, loved show company and motivated his interest in music, although they did not necessarily see it as a profession alternative. Wein took his first piano lessons at age 8 and discovered jazz while in high school.

By the time he got in Northeastern University in Boston, he was beginning to think seriously about a career in jazz. He served in the Army from 1944 to 1946, spending some time overseas however not seeing battle, and enrolled in Boston University after being discharged. Prior to graduating with a degree in history in 1950, he was working steadily as a jazz pianist around Boston.

In his autobiography, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003), written with Nate Chinen, he stated that he understood already that music was an important part of his being, however that he likewise understood that he had neither the self-confidence nor the desire to dedicate his life to being an expert jazz artist.

By the fall of 1950 he was a full-time nightclub owner. By the summertime of 1954 he was a celebration promoter. He also produced the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which showcased a broad range of vernacular music as well as the culture and cuisine of New Orleans, and staged festivals devoted to blues, soul, country, and even comedy.

After years of, by his account, struggling to break even, Wein ended up being a leader in corporate sponsorship in the late 1960s and 70s, employing beer, tobacco, and audio equipment companies to underwrite his celebrations and tours. There was the Schlitz Salute to Jazz, the Kool Jazz Festival and, many enduringly, a partnership with the Japanese electronics giant JVC, which started in 1984 and lasted till 2008. Wein never recognized that one could make money till sponsors occurred.

The trustworthiness Wein had actually been dealing with all those years always brought media notice. And then the chance for media notice was gotten by sponsors. In 1959, Wein married Joyce Alexander, who worked along with him as a vice president of Festival Productions for 4 years.

She died in 2005.
No immediate family members survive. He was called a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2005 and inducted into the French Legion of Honor in 1991. In 2007, 9 years after an offer to sell 80 percent of Festival Productions to Black Entertainment Television failed, the business was gotten by a newly formed company, the Festival Network.

Wein stayed involved, but as a worker, and not the boss. Things changed again in 2009, when the Festival Network faced financial problems and Wein gained back control of the handful of festivals left in what had actually when been a large empire. At first he was lawfully prevented from using the names Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival because they came from the Festival Network, but he reacquired the rights in 2010.

By the middle 1960s, celebrations had ended up being as crucial as nightclubs and auditorium on the travel plan of practically every significant jazz entertainer, and Wein had actually come to control the festival landscape. He did not have the field to himself. Major events like the Monterey Jazz Festival in California, which began in 1958, and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, which began in 1967, were the work of other promoters.

But for half a century, if there was a substantial jazz celebration anywhere in the world, there was a better than even opportunity it was a Wein production.

At the height of his success, Wein was producing events in Warsaw, Paris, Seoul, and in other places overseas, in addition to all over the United States. Newport stayed his flagship, and it rapidly became called a place where jazz history was made. Miles Davis was signed to Columbia Records on the strength of his inspired playing at the 1955 celebration.

Duke Ellington’s career, which had actually remained in decline, was renewed a year later on when his rousing performance at Newport landed him on the cover of Time publication. The 1958 celebration was recorded on movie by the professional photographer Bert Stern in the documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, one of the most renowned jazz movies ever made. Gate-crashers interfered with the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival, whose expense for the very first time consisted of rock bands, among them Led Zeppelin and Sly and the Family Stone.

The Newport Folk Festival, which had not been held in 1970 but was arranged for later on in the summer of 1971, was canceled. He was not prevented. In 1972 he moved the Newport Jazz Festival to New York City, where it ended up being a less agrarian however more grandiose affair, with concerts at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, and other locations around town.

Under corporate sponsors and numerous names, the New York occasion continued to thrive for practically 40 years.

Wein’s success in providing jazz and folk at Newport assisted pave the way for the phenomenon of Woodstock and the profusion of rock festivals in the late 1960s and early 70s. Jazz was constantly his very first love. He was a jazz artist prior to he was a jazz business owner.

He started playing piano expertly as a teenager and continued into his 80s, leading small groups, generally billed as the Newport All-Stars, at his celebrations and elsewhere. He carried out in public for the very first time in numerous years at Newport in 2019. It was, he announced, his last performance as a jazz musician.

He was a great gamer, in the unwinded, melodic vein of the fantastic swing pianist Teddy Wilson, with whom he briefly studied. He figured out early on that playing jazz would be a precarious method for him to make a living, and he ended up being more focused on presenting it. In 2011 Wein revealed that both Newport celebrations, the only occasions he was still producing, would enter into a new nonprofit company, the Newport Festivals Foundation.

He eventually turned over the reins of both festivals, although he remained included until completion.

Jay Sweet became producer of the folk celebration in 2009 and 6 years later was called executive producer of the Newport Festivals Foundation. In 2016 Danny Melnick was promoted from associate producer to manufacturer of allure celebration, and allure bassist and bandleader Christian McBride, who had carried out at Newport various times since 1991, was named creative director. The coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of both celebrations in 2020, however they were back the next year.

Wein had planned to participate in the 2021 jazz celebration, however on July 28, just two days prior to it was arranged to start, he announced on social networks that he would not exist. He did get involved from another location, presenting the vocalists Mavis Staples, by phone, and Andra Day, via FaceTime. At his age of 95, making the journey will be too hard for him.

He is heartbroken to miss out on seeing all his good friends. With a new group in place to run both festivals, he can see that his legacy is in excellent hands.

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