A Fireside Chat With George Wein
AAJ: What challenges does the future hold?
GW: Now, for instance, Fred, we are in competition in areas where we were never in competition. We are in competition from us to them and them to us. Let's put it this way, if Ella Fitzgerald were alive today, we wouldn't get her for jazz festivals because Clear Channel would be booking her for all this shit. A Norah Jones comes along, who is halfway to being a jazz artist and we can't get her because she sells so many tickets that we can't compete with Clear Channel people who are paying her a fortune already. That does not stop. Anything that sells a ticket now, whether it is Brazilian artists or world music, if it sells tickets, Clear Channel wants them. We can't compete with that. There was a time that a jazz artist would come to the Newport Jazz Festival. Other promoters did not want anything related to jazz and so we could create great, great festivals. Then there were great people. The big problem now is that there is a confusion in the world of jazz and there is no Charlie Parker. There is no Coltrane. The only icon that is really alive now is Ornette Coleman and Ornette Coleman was never a great commercial situation. He was a great artistic situation. We have him this year in New York. You need icons in jazz. You need the Ellingtons. You need the Armstongs. You need the MJQs. You need groups that play jazz, but also sell records. We have Dave Brubeck. He is still alive and he is still an important artist. There are really new, young artists who are fine and great players, but there is a transition period that we are involved in and we better get through it or there won't be any jazz.
AAJ: Future sounds grim.
GW: That is not necessarily true. If you go into little clubs where you have a social scene and they are playing jazz and the price is not too high and it is a five or ten dollar cover charge, you will see young people. Young people cannot afford to go to Carnegie Hall. We get a lot of young people at Newport because it is a good bargain for the money. It is a big day, five, six hours or music. Our concerts at Carnegie Hall do not draw a lot of young people because we are charging sixty or seventy dollars a concert. The cost is so incredible that you have to do that. When we first came to New York, I rented Carnegie Hall and the ticket prices were six, seven dollars and we could pay for the music, pay for the hall, and pay for advertising, and break even. We could stay alive and keep the festival going. You can't do that now because when you have a union venue like in New York, the venues cost a tremendous amount of money. The stagehands bills can be ten to thirty thousands of dollars depending on whether it is a special show. Advertising in New York is very expensive. We spend over a quarter of a million dollars advertising a festival. That is a fortune.