George Wein, "the grandfather of jazz festivals" announced this year's JVC Jazz Festival lineup with a little help from his friends. Bill Cosby was smiling brightly as this American icon threw his support behind the American art form of jazz.
Held every year at Manhattan's Supper Club on the upper westside, we hopped a New Haven Line train down to Grand Central Station to catch the event. Always presented in grande style with a fine food spread and this year entertainment by the Rodriguez Brothers, the press conference is a chance to meet and greet the old guard of jazz. (Hats off to the behind-the-scenes Superman Charles Bourgeois of Festival Productions, Inc.)
Milling about in the crowd of jazzoids was Lew Tabackin, Chico Hamilton, Illinois Jacquet...I heard Deborah Harry (Blondie) was there too. Jazz Journalist Masters Howard Mandel, Jeff Levenson and Ira Gitler soaked up the good vibes. Mary Fiance Fuss from Jazz At Lincoln Center brightened up the place. Good people and a good time.
But most of all, its a pleasure every year to shake hands with the man himself, George Wein. He started this whole jazz festival thing back in 1954 at Newport, Rhode Island. He took this evening to thank stalwart sponsor JVC. It is 20 years that the generous sponsor - JVC - has thrown its support behind the jazz festival. It's a partership with George Wein that is a true friendship. Not just business. Family.
"It just happened. And I mean that." George explained to me of his lifelong career promoting jazz music. "I was playing the piano and I wasn't very good and I found out I had a better head for organizing and I kept thinking of things to do and one thing followed another and we did it," he said with a smile.
George also took this evening to announce the release of his new book "Myself Among Others". As George puts it, "It was alot of work. I wrote a book about my life, which is an ego trip to start with, but while you're doing it, it's not an ego trip, it's alot of hard work. But alot of people were saying I should write a book and I finally gave in and did it. It's fun. You look back at what you've done and you're motivations and why you did things...I think people will find it interesting...jazz fans will...and I think fans of the Newport Folk Festival and Kool Jazz Festival...many kinds of music are involved. I think it will have interest to alot of people."
Just imagine the folks George Wein has shared time with. His work was a labor of love. "Just knowing all the great people I know. It was a privilege to work with them. From Miles Davis to Bob Dylan to Luciano Pavorotti," George smiles wisely. "Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Pete Seeger, Aretha Frankin and so many people, all aspects of music. Even a few rock n' roll groups like Led Zeppelin." Rock On George!
And George has made lifelong friends that come to his support, when called. Big friends like Bill Cosby. Cornering Mr. Cosby for a brief minute gave us a glimpse into the entertainment giant's joys.
"I love the music. There's no other music that I prefer. I will listen to other music. I will enjoy certain things. But nothing makes the spirit and the soul dance like this umbrella of jazz," Cosby assured us.
Is jazz the one true American art form? "Well I don't know. I listen to some Country/Western and then I hear Blues...there's alot."
What incident from yesteryear brings a smile to your face? "I think it was at Birdland. And John Coltrane came from the kitchen while I was imitating him with my mouth. And he came from the kitchen and started playing on the stage...and I very intelligently...got off."
Bill Cosby, George Wein, John Coltrane. Can you think of a better bunch of guys to hang out with?!
Oh yea, about the 2003 JVC Jazz Festival New York lineup...well where do I start? Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Cassandra Wilson, Chick Corea, Ornette Coleman, The Crusaders. How's that?
This year's JVC Jazz Festival hits the big cities of New York, Newport (RI), Miami Beach, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, Chicago, Winter Park (CO), Paris, The Hague and Warsaw. So what are you waiting for?
Go to www.festivalproductions.net and www.jvc.com.