"Impresario!": A Chat With George Wein
By Bob Golden
For the past six decades, George Wein has actively endured as one of the world’s greatest jazz impresarios in addition to being a renowned jazz pianist, bandleader and author. He chats with Bob Golden about his extraordinary career.
Since 1954, when he originated the Newport Jazz Festival and the now ubiquitous jazz festival concept, Wein continues to present music events throughout the world while headlining at major venues and recording with his very popular Newport Jazz Festival All Stars.
This June, with a new corporate sponsor and as part of the 2010 CareFusion Jazz Festival season, Wein presents such music giants as Keith Jarrett, Chris Botti, João Gilberto, Herbie Hancock, and Cesaria Evora in a concert series at Carnegie Hall. George Wein recently shared thoughts about his extraordinary life and ongoing career with music industry veteran Bob Golden.
Bob Golden: What are the personal highlights of your exceptional career?
George Wein: Starting the Newport Jazz Festival in ’54, bringing it to New York in ’72, and creating the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival are three things that stand out in my mind—and what we’re doing right now to make Newport a continuing part of our musical culture.
BG: What do you still want to accomplish?
GW: Live a little bit longer. I’m 84. How many more years am I going to live? I don’t know. But I want to accomplish as much as I can and establish Newport as a cultural permanence, which is something that is very important to me right now.
BG: How do you view the present jazz landscape and your relation to it?
GW: We now have so many music schools graduating people who major in jazz, and there’s amazing talent out there. I want to give these young people exposure and be a part of what they’re bringing to music while still respecting the jazz that I love. I want Newport and what I do to relate to the music that’s happening now and what all these young and talented people are contributing.
BG: In the past, most of your sponsors were lifestyle corporations and now it’s CareFusion—a medical technology company. What commonalities do you feel jazz and CareFusion share?
GW: There are now so many programs that combine music with health care. As one example, the Louis Armstrong Center at Beth Israel hospital here in New York City uses music in the actual treatment of patients. There are similar experiments all over the country.
BG: What are your feelings about Carnegie Hall?
GW: One of the great thrills as a producer is to sit in Carnegie Hall while a great musician is performing on that stage to a sold-out audience and knowing that you made it possible. That’s a tremendous feeling. Carnegie Hall is like a cathedral, and it is a great privilege to have so far produced around 400 concerts there over the years.
BG: What was your musical education?
GW: The great musicians I’ve been able to play with have always been my most inspirational teachers. Teddy Wilson was an actual teacher of mine for a few lessons. I don’t know whether I learned the guts of his music, but I certainly learned his style, which was very good for me. I was taught how to play classical piano when I was very young, but I never had any teachers after that. Over the years, my harmonies have improved, and I’ve learned a lot more just by paying attention. Maybe if I had more years of studying, I’d be a better pianist. But just learning how to play the piano is not the same as knowing how to play jazz.
BG: When you sold your sizable concert organization several years ago, you seemed content to be a consultant and to become more active as a musician. What caused you to return as a major music presenter?
GW: Since the company that bought Newport went bust and no one was going to produce it, I came back in January of last year to revive the festival. I couldn’t then legally call it Newport, so we named it George Wein’s Jazz Festival 55. Now I have the name back because when the buyers abandoned it, by contract it reverted to me. Newport is my legacy, and I could never see it die.
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