George Wein: Back to Doing His Thing
"I think you have to have faith in the music. That's the dedication and new direction I'm going in. I have to make the public realize that when I do groups like Esperanza Spalding, Miguel Zenon, Michel Camilo, Vijay Iyer, the The Bad Plus, Rudresh Mahanthappa. All these people are outstanding. Roy Haynes is still out there. William Parker with his Vision group. Joe Lovano... I heard Jacky Terrasson last night at the Iridium (NYC). He was absolutely marvelous. There's so much good music out there. It's a matter of not just thinking about the big names. If jazz doesn't sell itself when it's great, it has to overcome those problems. I think we can do it. That's why I think it's a great festival.
"All these people are playing great music and you want people to hear them. Put a headliner on there like Tony Bennett and maybe you'll draw some people. And maybe you won't. We'll see. I'll let you know in August."
So its onward and upward for Wein, who as a young man opened a small jazz club in 1950, Storyville, in Boston after getting out of college. That business led to his association with the Lorillards of Newport and the establishment of the first festival. He also played jazz piano back then, something he has maintained, when possible, over all these years. He's good enough to sit in with some of his own idols, and occasionally get gigs for groups of his own.
In 2008, he performed at the JVC Jazz festival in Newport on the main stage. He presented a fine set of music backed by drummer Jimmy Cobb, guitarist Howard Alden, Anat Cohen on reeds and Spalding on bass. Recently, he was in Montreal with Lew Tabackin, Alden, Randy Sandke, Lewis Nash and Peter Washington. He's got a couple other gigs later this year.
"I have to get up a lot of energy to play with these people. They're great players. I don't play that much, so for me to play with them I've got to go that extra mile. It's a little tough sometimes at my age," he says.
He's acknowledged over the years that playing piano has been his great love.
"Oh, man. When we get a good feeling in a night at a club, or a good feeling at a concert, there's nothing like it. That's why I went into the business in the first place was the love of the music," says Wein. "I found out I had a better head for organizing than for playing. I was always calling up everybody to form a band or play ball. I was always the organizer."
Self-effacing about his piano playing, his career path as a producer has led to great gains for the music and musicians for more than half a century. It's been a long and colorful path, far from smooth sailing. Thankfully, he chronicled most of it with author Nate Chinen in 2003's Myself Among Others (DaCapo Press).
Now there's his "new start in life," and if it only leads to new life for jazz music at Newport, then that's fair enough. Wein eventually has to leave things to others. We just don't know when and we probably don't want to know.
"We all have regrets about certain things, but they usually end up where you could have made some money and you didn't do it, or you lost money. My overall career? No regrets at all. I've had nothing but joy about what I've done in my life. I've always done what I've wanted. I've survived my critics and I've made most people my friends, which is the name of the game," says Wein.
He adds with sincerity, "Friendship, to me, is very important. I have tremendous respect for people and friendship. You don't have to be a big shot. Do your thing and that's all."