June 20, 2022

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George Wein, Jazz Pageant Trailblazer, Is Lifeless at 95

George Wein, the impresario who almost solitary-handedly turned the jazz pageant into a worldwide phenomenon, died on Monday at his apartment in Manhattan. He was 95.

His demise was declared by a spokeswoman, Carolyn McClair.

Jazz festivals have been not an entirely new thought when Mr. Wein (pronounced ween) was approached about presenting a weekend of jazz in the open up air in Newport, R.I., in 1954. There had been sporadic attempts at these gatherings, notably in equally Paris and Wonderful in 1948. But there experienced been practically nothing as ambitious as the pageant Mr. Wein staged that July on the grounds of the Newport On line casino, an athletic complicated in close proximity to the historic mansions of Bellevue Avenue.

With a lineup together with Billie Holiday break, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and other stars, the inaugural Newport Jazz Pageant drew hundreds of paying out prospects about two days and captivated the notice of the news media. It scarcely broke even Mr. Wein later on recalled that it made a income of $142.50, and that it finished up in the black only simply because he waived his $5,000 producer’s price.

But it was successful more than enough to advantage a return engagement, and ahead of extensive the Newport festival experienced proven alone as a jazz establishment — and as a template for how to present tunes in the open up air on a grand scale.

By the center 1960s, festivals had turn into as significant as nightclubs and concert halls on the itinerary of virtually every key jazz performer, and Mr. Wein experienced occur to dominate the competition landscape.

He did not have the subject to himself: Important situations like the Monterey Jazz Competition in California, which began in 1958, and the Montreux Jazz Competition in Switzerland, which started in 1967, ended up the get the job done of other promoters. But for 50 % a century, if there was a major jazz competition anywhere in the earth, there was a superior than even likelihood it was a George Wein output.

At the top of his achievements, Mr. Wein was creating occasions in Warsaw, Paris, Seoul and elsewhere overseas, as perfectly as all above the United States.

Newport remained his flagship, and it rapidly became identified as a spot wherever jazz history was designed. Miles Davis was signed to Columbia Documents on the energy of his inspired participating in at the 1955 pageant. Duke Ellington’s career, which had been in decline, was reinvigorated a year afterwards when his rousing overall performance at Newport landed him on the include of Time magazine. The 1958 pageant was captured on film by the photographer Bert Stern in the documentary “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” a single of the most celebrated jazz flicks at any time created.

Mr. Wein’s empire prolonged over and above jazz. It bundled the Newport Folks Festival, which played a critical part in the occupations of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and lots of other performers. (It was at Newport that Mr. Dylan despatched shock waves through the folks world by carrying out with an electric band in 1965.) He also created the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Pageant, which showcased a wide selection of vernacular new music as nicely as the culture and delicacies of New Orleans, and staged festivals devoted to blues, soul, country and even comedy.

His 1 venture into the earth of rock was not a pleased experience. Gate-crashers disrupted the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival, whose monthly bill for the to start with time integrated rock bands, amongst them Led Zeppelin and Sly and the Family Stone. The Newport city fathers issued a ban on these kinds of acts the upcoming summer when each rock (the Allman Brothers) and the gate-crashers returned in 1971, Mr. Wein was not invited back again. (The Newport People Festival, which experienced not been held in 1970 but was scheduled for later in the summer time of 1971, was canceled.)

He was not discouraged. In 1972 he moved the Newport Jazz Pageant to New York City, in which it turned a considerably less bucolic but more grandiose affair, with live shows at Carnegie Corridor, Lincoln Middle, Radio Metropolis Audio Corridor and other locations all around city. Less than various names and company sponsors, the New York celebration continued to thrive for nearly 40 a long time. In addition, the jazz festival returned to Newport in 1981 and the folk festival in 1985, both of those after yet again below Mr. Wein’s auspices.

Mr. Wein’s achievement in presenting jazz and people at Newport served pave the way for the phenomenon of Woodstock and the profusion of rock festivals in the late 1960s and early ’70s. But jazz was usually his very first like.

He was a jazz musician right before he was a jazz entrepreneur. He commenced taking part in piano professionally as a teenager and ongoing into his 80s, leading little groups, commonly billed as the Newport All-Stars, at his festivals and elsewhere. (He executed in community for the to start with time in several several years at Newport in 2019. It was, he declared, “my very last overall performance as a jazz musician.”)

He was a very good player, in the relaxed, melodic vein of the good swing pianist Teddy Wilson, with whom he briefly studied. But he identified early on that playing jazz would be a precarious way for him to make a dwelling, and he grew to become more centered on presenting it.

The achievements of Mr. Wein’s Boston nightclub, Storyville, named immediately after the crimson-light-weight district of New Orleans exactly where legend has it jazz was born, led Elaine Lorillard, a rich Newport resident, to solution him about generating what grew to become the first Newport Jazz Competition, which she and her spouse, Louis, financed. And the results of that competition established the route his occupation would choose.

George Theodore Wein was born on Oct. 3, 1925, in Lynn, Mass., near Boston, and grew up in the nearby city of Newton. His father, Barnet, was a medical doctor. His mother, Ruth, was an amateur pianist. Equally his mothers and fathers, he recalled, cherished show organization and encouraged his interest in tunes, although they did not always see it as a profession alternative.

Mr. Wein took his 1st piano classes at age 8 and found out jazz while in significant school. By the time he entered Northeastern College in Boston, he was starting to feel seriously about a career in jazz.

He served in the Army from 1944 to 1946, expending some time overseas but not looking at battle, and enrolled in Boston College following currently being discharged. Right before graduating with a diploma in record in 1950, he was performing steadily as a jazz pianist close to Boston.

In his autobiography, “Myself Amid Many others: A Life in Music” (2003), composed with Nate Chinen, he explained that he knew by then that “music was a essential component of my currently being,” but that he also knew that he “had neither the self esteem nor the want to commit my lifetime to staying a expert jazz musician.” By the slide of 1950 he was a full-time nightclub owner by the summer time of 1954 he was a competition promoter.

Mr. Wein encountered some tough times in the early several years of the Newport Jazz Competition. In 1960 the bassist Charles Mingus and the drummer Max Roach, protesting what they called Mr. Wein’s overly industrial reserving policy, staged a scaled-down “rebel” competition in a different element of Newport in immediate competitors. But both of those activities have been overshadowed when throngs of drunken youths, unable to get tickets to Mr. Wein’s pageant, descended on the city, throwing rocks and breaking keep home windows. Town officials shut the Newport Jazz Pageant down, though the Mingus-Roach event was allowed to carry on.

As a final result of the rioting, Mr. Wein’s permit was revoked, and he did not return to Newport in 1961. A pageant billed as Music at Newport, staged by yet another promoter and that includes a vary of songs together with some jazz, was introduced in its position but was not profitable. Mr. Wein was authorized back the up coming year, and the festival continued with out incident until finally the finish of the ten years.

Protection of Mr. Wein in the jazz push grew much more adverse more than time, and the criticism would persist for the rest of his vocation. In 1959, the critic Nat Hentoff termed the Newport Jazz Competition a “sideshow” that experienced “nothing to do with the upcoming of jazz.” (Mr. Hentoff later on changed his tune: In 2001 he wrote that Mr. Wein had “expanded the viewers for jazz extra than any other promoter in the music’s historical past.”)

Mr. Wein was in some cases attacked as exploitive, income-hungry, unimaginative in his programming and far too willing to current non-jazz artists at his jazz festivals — criticism very first heard when he booked Chuck Berry at Newport in 1958, and heard once more when he booked the likes of Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and even the folks group the Kingston Trio (who done at both equally the folk and jazz festivals in 1959). He professed to consider the criticism in stride, but in his autobiography he still left no question that he had overlooked none of it, quoting a lot of of his worst notices and patiently explaining why they were completely wrong.

The two Newport festivals had been set up as nonprofit ventures, but in 1960 Mr. Wein shaped a company, Festival Productions, to run what soon grew to become a throughout the world empire. At the company’s peak it was manufacturing festivals and tours in some 50 towns throughout the world. Around the years he also attempted his hand at personal administration and file creation.

After years of, by his account, struggling to break even, Mr. Wein turned a pioneer in company sponsorship in the late 1960s and ’70s, enlisting beer, tobacco and audio products businesses to underwrite his festivals and tours. There was the Schlitz Salute to Jazz, the Kool Jazz Competition and, most enduringly, a partnership with the Japanese electronics huge JVC, which started in 1984 and lasted till 2008.

“I never understood that you could make revenue until finally sponsors came together,” he told The New York Moments in 2004. “The believability we’d been performing on all all those years usually brought media recognize. And then the possibility for media recognize was picked up by sponsors.”

In 1959, Mr. Wein married Joyce Alexander, who worked alongside him as a vice president of Festival Productions for four decades. She died in 2005. No instant relatives customers survive.

Over the several years Mr. Wein gained many honors and accolades. He was named a Nationwide Endowment for the Arts Jazz Grasp in 2005 and inducted into the French Legion of Honor in 1991. He was honored by two presidents, Jimmy Carter in 1978 and Bill Clinton in 1993, at all-star White House jazz concert events celebrating the anniversary of the very first Newport Jazz Pageant. In 2015, the Recording Academy gave him a Trustees Award for lifetime accomplishment.

In 2007, nine years just after a deal to sell 80 p.c of Festival Productions to Black Amusement Tv fell by way of, the enterprise was obtained by a recently fashioned firm, the Festival Network. Mr. Wein remained associated, but as an worker — a form of producer emeritus — and not the boss.

Things changed all over again in 2009, when the Competition Community ran into fiscal problems and Mr. Wein regained control of the handful of festivals remaining in what had as soon as been a large empire. (At first he was legally prevented from employing the names Newport Jazz Festival and Newport People Competition due to the fact they belonged to the Festival Community, but he reacquired the legal rights in 2010.)

He also observed new sponsors for the Newport Jazz Competition — first a health care devices enterprise and later an asset management organization, Natixis — to change his longtime company partner, JVC. The people competition, whose sponsors in the latest years had integrated Ben & Jerry’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, had by then been with out sponsorship for quite a few several years both equally festivals have been later partly sponsored by the jewellery enterprise Alex and Ani.

In 2011 Mr. Wein introduced that each Newport festivals, the only gatherings he was nevertheless creating, would turn into element of a new nonprofit corporation, the Newport Festivals Foundation.

He ultimately handed about the reins of the two festivals, though he remained concerned until the conclude. Jay Sweet grew to become producer of the folks festival in 2009 and six yrs afterwards was named government producer of the Newport Festivals Foundation. In 2016 Danny Melnick was promoted from affiliate producer to producer of the jazz competition, and the jazz bassist and bandleader Christian McBride, who experienced carried out at Newport a lot of times considering that 1991, was named artistic director.

The coronavirus pandemic brought on the cancellation of each festivals in 2020, but they have been again the future calendar year. Mr. Wein experienced prepared to show up at the 2021 jazz festival, but on July 28, just two times in advance of it was scheduled to begin, he declared on social media that he would not be there. (He did participate remotely, introducing the singers Mavis Staples, by cell phone, and Andra Day, by using FaceTime.)

“At my age of 95, creating the journey will be much too tricky for me,” he wrote. “I am heartbroken to skip observing all my mates.” But, he added, with a new workforce in spot to run the two festivals, “I can see that my legacy is in very good palms.”