George Wein created the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 at the request of the wealthy patrons of his Boston Jazz Club. But the way Wein saw it, the festival wasn’t just casual weekend entertainment for residents of the Tony Rhode Island community – it was a like-minded music lover’s paradise, a venue. meeting with the most inventive music of the day. .
“I always say I love jazz from ‘J’ to ‘Z’,” he said in the 2015 interview. His love of the genre and its musicians would define his life.
“If you’ve been to a music festival, you’ve felt the influence of George Wein,” Jay Sweet, executive producer of Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, said in a statement to CNN.
A life defined by jazz
By the time he was in college, young Wein had formed a jazz group that performed in seedy bars in Massachusetts. He and his fellow young musicians, most of whom were not of drinking age at the venues where they performed, were paid meager sums for their performances, he said in the Hamilton College interview. His experiences as a teenage pianist were formative, although their performances sometimes included bar fights.
In 1944, Wein joined the US military as a combat engineer, and he played the piano to escape punishment – officer dances always needed a pianist, he said.
“Playing the piano had its advantages,” he said in the Hamilton College interview.
Playing music in the military was a “saving grace” for Wein, but when World War II ended and he graduated from Boston University, he realized that playing music professionally. would not be fulfilling. He had known so many musicians who mastered their craft but whose lives fell apart off the stage, he said.
“I think seeing them drink in their bedroom at night, you know, and so alone and so far from it, I said, ‘I’m not sure that’s the life I really want, though. I love to play and I love music, ”he said in the Hamilton College interview.
Giving up jazz altogether was never an option, however, in 1950, with the limited funds he had saved by going to college thanks to GI Bill, Wein opened the Storyville Jazz Club in Boston. He booked artists whose music he loved – and many of those artists went on to become the genre’s biggest stars.
Storyville barely hits breakeven every week, but it attracts a valued clientele, including Elaine Lorillard. The wealthy socialite approached Wein to bring jazz to her upscale Newport, Rhode Island neighborhood. Wein didn’t know much about organizing concerts that could accommodate as many guests as a few dozen club patrons, but he agreed.
Future editions of the jazz festival included performances by Miles Davis, Duke Ellington – who recorded a live album at the festival in 1956 – and Billie Holiday, among others. Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald will also release an album together, recorded live at the 1957 festival, before Holiday’s death. Subsequent acts included Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Chick Corea.
Sweet, the executive producer of Newport Festivals, said Wein was the epitome of an “impresario.”
“He was an icon, a maverick, an artist, an activist, a philanthropist, a mentor, an inspiration and most of all my friend,” said Sweet. “He left an unparalleled legacy and now it’s our job to continue to grow him.”
“Jazz has been my whole life,” he said in the 2013 release. “It means everything. I have learned so much from jazz that it has affected me from that day until today. – it takes a long time to be influenced by great music. “
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