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Newport Jazz Festival Co-Founder Was 95 – The Hollywood Reporter

George Wein, a 20th-century musical artist who helped establish Jazz and Folk festivals in Newport and set the template for gatherings everywhere from Woodstock to the south of France, passed away on Monday.

Carolyn McClair, a spokeswoman for the family, said Wein, 95, died “peacefully in her sleep” at her New York City apartment.

Once an aspiring jazz club owner and pianist, Wein hosted the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 under pouring rain and with a lineup for heaven – Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Lester Young. Louis Armstrong was there the following year and Duke Ellington made history in 1956, his band creating an extraordinary 27-chorus solo by saxophonist Paul Gonsalves that had almost single-sidedly revived. Ellington’s career in middle age.

Wein has been leading the festival for over 50 years, and performers will include almost every major jazz star, from Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk to Charles Mingus and Wynton Marsalis. Only in 1965 did the bill include Frank Sinatra, Earl of Basie, John Coltrane, Ellington, Gillespie, Davis and Monk.

Newport’s success has inspired a wave of jazz festivals in the US and Wein has replicated his success worldwide, his other projects include the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France. His multi-star, multi-day gatherings are also the model for rock festivals, whether Woodstock in 1969 or Lollapalooza tours in recent years.

Critic Gene Santoro remarked in 2003 that without Wein, “everything from Woodstock to Jazz at Lincoln Center could have turned out differently – if it had happened at all.”

Wein “can rightfully claim to have invented, developed and systematized the contemporary popular music festival,” Santoro writes.

The idea for Newport came in part from locals Louis and Elaine Lorillard, who urged Wein to host a jazz festival in their gilded resort community in Rhode Island. Elaine Lorillard, a social networking site, complains that the summer scene is “horribly boring”. Her tobacco inheritance husband supported her with a $20,000 donation.

Wein had never known a large-scale jazz festival, so, in the spirit of music, he improvised – finding a way to combine the energy and musicality of a Harlem jazz club with atmosphere of a summer classical concert in Tanglewood.

“What is festival to me?” Wein then said. “I don’t have any rule books to look through. I knew it had to be something unique that no jazz fan had ever been exposed to.”

Wein doesn’t just work with jazz musicians. In 1959, he and Pete Seeger started a folk festival that accompanied the early performances of Joan Baez and Jose Feliciano among others and followed Bob Dylan’s growth from ardent troubadour to become an exceptional rock star.

Dylan’s 1963 performance established him as “the voice of his generation,” but by 1965 he felt confined by the folk community and moved to Newport with an electric band. . Feedback was mostly positive, but there was enough booing from the crowd and backstage conflict – Wein refuted the legend that Seeger tried to cut the power cables to Dylan’s amps – to make Dylan’s appearance became a turning point in the history of rock and folk music.

In his memoirs Myself among othersWein remembers confronting Dylan when he left the stage and asked him to come back and play something acoustic. When Dylan resisted and said he didn’t have an acoustic guitar, Wein asked volunteers to lend him one and help convince Dylan to return. Years later, Wein is still moved by the memories of hearing Dylan sing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” a farewell ballad in various ways.

It was a goodbye to the idealism and purity of folk renaissance, Wein wrote. “There’s no turning back – not for Dylan, not for anyone.”

The Newport Festival has resulted in many films and concert albums, notably Murray Lerner’s 1967 Oscar-nominated documentary. Festival!, with Dylan, Johnny Cash and Howlin’ Wolf among the performers. Wein will then bring on Led Zeppelin, Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown, among other rock and rhythm and blues repertoires. In 2020, as Newport went virtual because of the pandemic, Wein introduced Mavis Staples from his home in Manhattan.

Wein himself has been a pianist since childhood and he has maintained an active music career, releasing “Wein, Women and Song”, “Swing That Music” and several other albums and appearances. every year at the Newport festival with his band Newport All-Stars. He was named a “Master of Jazz” in 2005 by the National Endowment for the Arts and received an honorary Grammy in 2014. Many years before that, President Clinton had brought his saxophone to the White House stage. to celebrate the Newport Jazz Festival.

Wein grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, his father was a dentist with a gambling habit and kept an eye on his secretary, his mother was a pianist with “unsurpassed skill” and heiress to a family paper product assets. As a teenager, he defied his family by inviting Black musicians to their home and in his 20s he dated a Black woman, Joyce Alexander, whom he married. 1959. Joyce Wein, who became his closest business partner and advisor, died in 2005.

Wein saw himself as just an “average middle-class kid, Jewish-American”, though one who was easily mesmerized by music. He’ll remember attending a Benny Goodman concert and hearing only a few feet from trumpeter Cootie Williams.

“Throughout the evening, I stood alone, with my eyes wide open, at the foot of the stage,” he wrote in “Myself Among Other,” released in 2003, “not paying attention to the sea of ​​couples twirling around the dance floor behind. my back. . “

Wein joined the Army during World War II and two possible escapes: Hitler died in April 1945 while Wein and others were near the German front. Months later, he was released to the Pacific when the Japanese surrendered.

He graduated from Boston University and founded the Storyville jazz club and record label in Boston, where Ellington, Charlie Parker and others went. Wein even took part in a number of performances, including playing the piano for a set by Holiday, for whom the usual keyboard player did not show up.

The Newport Festival lasted despite ongoing conflicts, whether it was protest from Newport locals, the dwindling appeal of jazz, or the demands and frustrations of musicians. In 1960, Mingus organized a rival festival to protest Wein’s alleged bias among performers, and a riot at a Newport gathering resulted in Wein being sidelined until 1960. 1962. In 1971, the Allman Brothers Band reservation proved disastrous when rock fans flooded the festival grounds, even burning the track, and brought about long periods of exile every day. decade from Newport.

Wein, once described by New Yorkersby Lillian Ross as a stocky man who “seems to be filled with controlled frenzy,” a boxer who confronts racist officials in New Orleans and chastises Monk for waiting. too long to get on stage in Newport. He’s also good at math. He recruited Sinatra, Dionne Warwick and other famous singers to support jazz musicians. In the mid-1970s, he ran into financial difficulties and became one of the first popular music promoters to partner with corporate sponsors, especially the Kool cigarette makers.

In 2005, he sold his company Festival Productions Inc. for Festival Network LLC and took on a more limited role at Newport. Six years later, he founded the nonprofit Newport F Festival to oversee summer events.

Wein told the Associated Press at the time: “I want the festival to go on forever. “For me it is not a business issue. This is my life.”

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