George Wein, Jazz Festival Trailblazer, Is Dead at 95

George Wein, the impresario who nearly single-handedly turned the jazz competition right into a worldwide phenomenon, died on Monday at his house in Manhattan. He was 95.

His demise was introduced by a spokeswoman, Carolyn McClair.

Jazz festivals weren’t a completely new thought when Mr. Wein (pronounced ween) was approached about presenting a weekend of jazz within the open air in Newport, R.I., in 1954. There had been sporadic makes an attempt at such occasions, notably in each Paris and Good in 1948. However there had been nothing as bold because the competition Mr. Wein staged that July on the grounds of the Newport On line casino, an athletic complicated close to the historic mansions of Bellevue Avenue.

With a lineup together with Billie Vacation, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and different stars, the inaugural Newport Jazz Pageant drew 1000’s of paying clients over two days and attracted the eye of the information media. It barely broke even; Mr. Wein later recalled that it made a revenue of $142.50, and that it ended up within the black solely as a result of he waived his $5,000 producer’s price.

But it surely was profitable sufficient to advantage a return engagement, and earlier than lengthy the Newport competition had established itself as a jazz establishment — and as a template for tips on how to current music within the open air on a grand scale.

By the center Sixties, festivals had turn out to be as necessary as nightclubs and live performance halls on the itinerary of nearly each main jazz performer, and Mr. Wein had come to dominate the competition panorama.

He didn’t have the sector to himself: Main occasions just like the Monterey Jazz Pageant in California, which started in 1958, and the Montreux Jazz Pageant in Switzerland, which started in 1967, have been the work of different promoters. However for half a century, if there was a major jazz competition wherever on the earth, there was a greater than even likelihood it was a George Wein manufacturing.

On the peak of his success, Mr. Wein was producing occasions in Warsaw, Paris, Seoul and elsewhere abroad, in addition to everywhere in the United States.

Newport remained his flagship, and it shortly grew to become referred to as a spot the place jazz historical past was made. Miles Davis was signed to Columbia Data on the power of his impressed taking part in on the 1955 competition. Duke Ellington’s profession, which had been in decline, was reinvigorated a yr later when his rousing efficiency at Newport landed him on the duvet of Time journal. The 1958 competition was captured on movie by the photographer Bert Stern within the documentary “Jazz on a Summer time’s Day,” one of the celebrated jazz films ever made.

Mr. Wein’s empire prolonged past jazz. It included the Newport People Pageant, which performed an important function within the careers of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and plenty of different performers. (It was at Newport that Mr. Dylan despatched shock waves by the folks world by performing with an electrical band in 1965.) He additionally produced the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Pageant, which showcased a broad vary of vernacular music in addition to the tradition and delicacies of New Orleans, and staged festivals dedicated to blues, soul, nation and even comedy.

His one enterprise into the world of rock was not a cheerful expertise. Gate-crashers disrupted the 1969 Newport Jazz Pageant, whose invoice for the primary time included rock bands, amongst them Led Zeppelin and Sly and the Household Stone. The Newport metropolis fathers issued a ban on such acts the following summer season; when each rock (the Allman Brothers) and the gate-crashers returned in 1971, Mr. Wein was not invited again. (The Newport People Pageant, which had not been held in 1970 however was scheduled for later in the summertime of 1971, was canceled.)

He was not discouraged. In 1972 he moved the Newport Jazz Pageant to New York Metropolis, the place it grew to become a much less bucolic however extra grandiose affair, with live shows at Carnegie Corridor, Lincoln Heart, Radio Metropolis Music Corridor and different areas round city. Underneath varied names and company sponsors, the New York occasion continued to thrive for nearly 40 years. As well as, the jazz competition returned to Newport in 1981 and the folks competition in 1985, each as soon as once more beneath Mr. Wein’s auspices.

Mr. Wein’s success in presenting jazz and folks at Newport helped pave the best way for the phenomenon of Woodstock and the profusion of rock festivals within the late Sixties and early ’70s. However jazz was at all times his old flame.

He was a jazz musician earlier than he was a jazz entrepreneur. He started taking part in piano professionally as a youngster and continued into his 80s, main small teams, normally billed because the Newport All-Stars, at his festivals and elsewhere. (He carried out in public for the primary time in a number of years at Newport in 2019. It was, he introduced, “my final efficiency as a jazz musician.”)

He was a great participant, within the relaxed, melodic vein of the good swing pianist Teddy Wilson, with whom he briefly studied. However he decided early on that taking part in jazz can be a precarious approach for him to make a residing, and he grew to become extra centered on presenting it.

The success of Mr. Wein’s Boston nightclub, Storyville, named after the red-light district of New Orleans the place legend has it jazz was born, led Elaine Lorillard, a rich Newport resident, to strategy him about producing what grew to become the primary Newport Jazz Pageant, which she and her husband, Louis, financed. And the success of that competition decided the course his profession would take.

George Theodore Wein was born on Oct. 3, 1925, in Lynn, Mass., close to Boston, and grew up within the close by city of Newton. His father, Barnet, was a health care provider. His mom, Ruth, was an novice pianist. Each his mother and father, he recalled, beloved present enterprise and inspired his curiosity in music, though they didn’t essentially see it as a profession possibility.

Mr. Wein took his first piano classes at age 8 and found jazz whereas in highschool. By the point he entered Northeastern College in Boston, he was starting to assume severely a couple of profession in jazz.

He served within the Military from 1944 to 1946, spending a while abroad however not seeing fight, and enrolled in Boston College after being discharged. Earlier than graduating with a level in historical past in 1950, he was working steadily as a jazz pianist round Boston.

In his autobiography, “Myself Amongst Others: A Life in Music” (2003), written with Nate Chinen, he stated that he knew by then that “music was an important a part of my being,” however that he additionally knew that he “had neither the boldness nor the need to commit my life to being knowledgeable jazz musician.” By the autumn of 1950 he was a full-time nightclub proprietor; by the summer season of 1954 he was a competition promoter.

Mr. Wein encountered some tough occasions within the early years of the Newport Jazz Pageant. In 1960 the bassist Charles Mingus and the drummer Max Roach, protesting what they known as Mr. Wein’s overly industrial reserving coverage, staged a smaller “insurgent” competition in one other a part of Newport in direct competitors. However each occasions have been overshadowed when throngs of drunken youths, unable to get tickets to Mr. Wein’s competition, descended on the town, throwing rocks and breaking retailer home windows. Metropolis officers shut the Newport Jazz Pageant down, though the Mingus-Roach occasion was allowed to proceed.

On account of the rioting, Mr. Wein’s allow was revoked, and he didn’t return to Newport in 1961. A competition billed as Music at Newport, staged by one other promoter and that includes a spread of music together with some jazz, was introduced instead however was not profitable. Mr. Wein was allowed again the following yr, and the competition continued with out incident till the tip of the last decade.

Protection of Mr. Wein within the jazz press grew extra unfavorable over time, and the criticism would persist for the remainder of his profession. In 1959, the critic Nat Hentoff known as the Newport Jazz Pageant a “sideshow” that had “nothing to do with the way forward for jazz.” (Mr. Hentoff later modified his tune: In 2001 he wrote that Mr. Wein had “expanded the viewers for jazz greater than every other promoter within the music’s historical past.”)

Mr. Wein was generally attacked as exploitive, money-hungry, unimaginative in his programming and too prepared to current non-jazz artists at his jazz festivals — criticism 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 carried out at each the folks and jazz festivals in 1959). He professed to take the criticism in stride, however in his autobiography he left little doubt that he had forgotten none of it, quoting a lot of his worst notices and patiently explaining why they have been fallacious.

The 2 Newport festivals had been established as nonprofit ventures, however in 1960 Mr. Wein fashioned a company, Pageant Productions, to run what quickly grew to become a worldwide empire. On the firm’s peak it was producing festivals and excursions in some 50 cities worldwide. Through the years he additionally tried his hand at private administration and report manufacturing.

After years of, by his account, struggling to interrupt even, Mr. Wein grew to become a pioneer in company sponsorship within the late Sixties and ’70s, enlisting beer, tobacco and audio tools corporations to underwrite his festivals and excursions. There was the Schlitz Salute to Jazz, the Kool Jazz Pageant and, most enduringly, a partnership with the Japanese electronics large JVC, which started in 1984 and lasted till 2008.

“I by no means realized that you might become profitable till sponsors got here alongside,” he instructed The New York Occasions in 2004. “The credibility we’d been engaged on all these years at all times introduced media discover. After which the chance for media discover was picked up by sponsors.”

In 1959, Mr. Wein married Joyce Alexander, who labored alongside him as a vice chairman of Pageant Productions for 4 many years. She died in 2005. No instant relations survive.

Through the years Mr. Wein acquired quite a few 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 Invoice Clinton in 1993, at all-star White Home jazz live shows celebrating the anniversary of the primary Newport Jazz Pageant. In 2015, the Recording Academy gave him a Trustees Award for lifetime achievement.

In 2007, 9 years after a deal to promote 80 % of Pageant Productions to Black Leisure Tv fell by, the corporate was acquired by a newly fashioned firm, the Pageant Community. Mr. Wein remained concerned, however as an worker — a sort of producer emeritus — and never the boss.

Issues modified once more in 2009, when the Pageant Community bumped into monetary issues and Mr. Wein regained management of the handful of festivals left in what had as soon as been an enormous empire. (At first he was legally prevented from utilizing the names Newport Jazz Pageant and Newport People Pageant as a result of they belonged to the Pageant Community, however he reacquired the rights in 2010.)

He additionally discovered new sponsors for the Newport Jazz Pageant — first a medical tools firm and later an asset administration agency, Natixis — to switch his longtime company companion, JVC. The people competition, whose sponsors in recent times had included Ben & Jerry’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, had by then been with out sponsorship for a number of years; each festivals have been later partly sponsored by the jewellery firm Alex and Ani.

In 2011 Mr. Wein introduced that each Newport festivals, the one occasions he was nonetheless producing, would turn out to be a part of a brand new nonprofit group, the Newport Festivals Basis.

He ultimately handed over the reins of each festivals, though he remained concerned till the tip. Jay Candy grew to become producer of the folks competition in 2009 and 6 years later was named govt producer of the Newport Festivals Basis. In 2016 Danny Melnick was promoted from affiliate producer to producer of the jazz competition, and the jazz bassist and bandleader Christian McBride, who had carried out at Newport quite a few occasions since 1991, was named inventive director. (Mr. Melnick left the corporate in 2017.)

The coronavirus pandemic prompted the cancellation of each festivals in 2020, however they have been again the following yr. Mr. Wein had deliberate to attend the 2021 jazz competition, however on July 28, simply two days earlier than it was scheduled to start, he introduced on social media that he wouldn’t be there. (He did take part remotely, introducing the singers Mavis Staples, by cellphone, and Andra Day, through FaceTime.)

“At my age of 95, making the journey will probably be too tough for me,” he wrote. “I’m heartbroken to overlook seeing all my associates.” However, he added, with a brand new workforce in place to run each festivals, “I can see that my legacy is in good palms.”

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