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Interviews

George Wein: Back to Doing His Thing

By Published: July 20, 2009

It was in late December that Wein decided he had to make a move to save the festival. "I had to work all of January and most of February to get the license. We put together two great festivals (jazz and folk) in literally three or four months. But my key people all came back with me, so we had people to work with. Dedicated people who love what they're doing. They aren't getting paid the way they used to get paid, but they still want to do it."

The struggles involved with starting from scratch don't seemed to have phased the veteran producer, who in June received the "Events Producer of the Year" award from the Jazz Journalists Association.

"It's just work. How many years have I been doing festivals? Fifty-five I guess. In those 55 years, I must have done close to 1,000 festivals. I don't know. I've done so many different things all over the world," says Wein with an air of contentment and not conceit.



"Doing a festival is work. It's not easy. It's not calling an agent up and getting some talent and putting a stage up in a field. That's only the surface part of doing a festival. There has to be a meaning, a mission, a dedication, a concept of promotion. It's 24-7."

Though he didn't have time to save the New York City event. With its many venues and acts over two weeks, Wein did warm up his producer chops with two shows at New York City's Carnegie Hall in June. Diana Krall

Diana Krall
Diana Krall
b.1964
piano
did two nights and young singer Jamie Cullum
Jamie Cullum
Jamie Cullum

vocalist
also did a night.

All three did great. Diana Krall sold out completely in two shows. The only difference was, it was a late buy. It didn't sell out immediately. And Jamie Cullum did a tremendous gate, 2,300-2,400 people, which was tremendous. The economy hasn't hurt us yet. We'll see what happens at the festival. Ticket advance is slower than usual, but it will pick, I hope."

When Wein spoke to All About Jazz, it was 11 days before the announcement of CareFusion as a major sponsor. He said he was hoping to bring back the New York event in 2010, "now that we've gotten over the big hump of getting my festival at Newport back. Even though I had to change the name. I sold them the name, but the festival itself is owned by the site (Fort Adams State Park) and by the state (Rhode Island). They wanted me back. So we went ahead."

Lack of a festival created a void for jazz in the Big Apple. While the city has several clubs, the festival gives high-profile stages to the artists, and higher paying gigs. Wein thinks the event may have gotten taken for granted over the years by some people, not getting a lot of credit until it was lost. Some critics took it to task in its later years, claiming it was too mainstream with its lineup and not giving cutting-edge groups exposure.

"It was strange," he says with a soft chuckle. "I got more publicity for not doing a festival than for doing the festival. I thought for the last few years they took our festival for granted. Not realizing it was such an important thing to do... The city and the state, and the newspapers. They took it for granted—it was just another event. So there was no urgency on my part this year to try to save it. But then I saw the reaction, all of a sudden. People writing big stories: No Festival This Year.

"Maybe next year we'll come back and get a little more acceptance than we had. We used to be the biggest thing (in NYC) in the summer. In 1972 we started in New York. It was unbelievable."

In 2000, Wein spoke with AAJ about his career festival producer extraordinaire. He spoke about the jazz artists of yore and their importance to his work, as well as their drawing power. With the passing of most of those giants, he said, there weren't many left who were automatic box office attraction. In a conversation last month, he looked back again.

"There are still some good names in jazz, but they aren't the icons that Miles Davis

Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
and Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
and Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
, Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
, Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
1917 - 1996
vocalist
, Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
1924 - 1990
vocalist
. These people are in the Valhalla. They made the music. They created the music. People now are playing the music and they're very good. But they're not the creators. They're not the originators. There are a few left. Dave Brubeck is still there. Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
is one of the originals. There aren't too many others. They're all good. You've got Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
and Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
.


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