Thursday, July 01, 2010

George Wein of the Newport Jazz + Folk Festivals: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

My friends at the Newport Jazz + Folk Festivals would like to invite you to become "one of the folk" and offer Well-Rounded Radio listeners some special ticket discounts.

Simply follow links to buy tickets for the Newport Folk Festival and enter the promo code "UFOLK" or buy tickets for the Newport Jazz Festival and enter the promo code "UJAZZ" when selecting tickets. (Discount is available for a limited time only. Offer good while supplies last. Not valid on previously purchased tickets or at gate. Does not apply to Friday evening concert.) See you at the shows!


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Festival owner and producer George Wein may not be one of those names in the history of music that everyone knows as he so often kept himself behind the scenes, but Wein has had an enormous impact on the world of live music and festivals, especially jazz.

Last year I interviewed Jay Sweet, who co-produces (with Bob Jones) the Newport Folk Festival; Sweet has worked with George Wein since 2005. You can hear that interview and check out the line-up for this year's folk festival, taking place July 30-August 1.

The Newport Jazz Festival takes place August 6-8, 2010.

Wein was born in in 1925 in Lynn, Massachusetts and grew up in Newton, where he learned to play jazz piano and performed in a variety of jazz groups. As he details in our conversation, after serving in the second World War, he opened Storyville, a jazz club that solidified his lifelong relationship with jazz musicians.

In 1954, Wein started the Newport Jazz Festival; five years later, with the help of Pete Seeger and others, the Newport Folk Festival was born. Wein went on to start a number of festivals in other cities, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, and JVC Jazz Festivals in cities around the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, Warsaw, and Tokyo.

Throughout the years, the Newport Jazz Festival has featured the biggest and most innovative names in jazz. From Miles Davis to John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald to Billie Holiday, Count Basie to Louis Armstrong to Albert Ayler to Duke Ellington to Nina Simone to Wynton Marsalis, and the list goes on.

Wein and Nate Chinen wrote the biography Myself Among Others: A Life In Music, published in 2004 by Da Capo Press. It’s a terrific read for anyone interested in music festivals or the history of jazz over the last 60 years. Wein also now has a blog, Key of G: Notes from George Wein.

Wein could easily be called the grandfather of the modern music festival, introducing ideas like sponsorships into the equation as a way to sustain events of this scale.

For those who haven't been lucky enough to attend, the Newport festivals are held at Fort Adams on a peninsula overlooking Newport Harbor, Narragansett Bay, and the 11,000 foot Newport Bridge. Surrounded by water, sail boats and listeners and a very easy-going crowd, the festivals' location is hard to beat. Do yourself a favor and go.

In 2007, Wein sold the the festivals to Festival Network, but in 2009, the company was headed for bankruptcy and Wein stepped back in to ensure the folk and jazz festivals in Newport took place again. As in 2009, the jazz festival is sponsored in 2010 by the healthcare company CareFusion. As Wein discusses, he's also organizing new kinds of festivals in New York City.

Over the years, the Newport Jazz Festival has brought live albums recorded during the festival and Wolfgang's Vault now has select, classic Newport concerts available to purchase. There's also several videos available, including 1960's Jazz on a Summer's Day and Newport Jazz Festival 1962.

The 2010 Newport Jazz Festival takes place August 6-8 this summer. The line-up includes more than 30 jazz artists and ensembles performing at three stages. For a full schedule and details on buying tickets or directions, visit For tickets for the Newport Folk Festival, taking place July 30-August 1, visit

I met with Wein in his Manhattan apartment--which you get to by walking down a hallway lined with beautiful, framed posters from many of his past festivals--to discuss:
* how he curates festivals for audiences and how its changed over the years
* how the festival has evolved over more than five decades
* why he came back to give the Newport festivals another life

Photo credit: John Abbott

Songs featured in the interview include:
1) J.D. Allen Trio: Sonhouse (Shine!) (in preview) *
2) Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Zeno (Infernal Machines) *
3) Glen Gray-Casa Loma Orchestra: Casa Loma Stomp (1930 Okeh version)
4) Benny Goodman: Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing)
5) Elliot Lawrence: Elevation
6) George Wein: Back In Your Own Backyard (Wein, Women, & Song)
7) Ella Fitzgerald: Cotton Tail
8) Pete Seeger: Old Dan Tucker
9) Miles Davis: Fran-Dance (At Newport 1958)
10) John Coltrane: My Favorite Things
11) Dave Brubeck Quartet: How High the Moon
12) Charles Mingus: Cryin' Blues
13) Bob Dylan: It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (Highway 61 Revisited)
14) Balfa Toujours: J'ai vu le loup, le renard et la belette
15) Duke Ellington: I Let a Song Out of My Heart
16) Esperanza Spalding: Ponta De Areia (Esperanza)
17) Ben Allison: Fred *
18) Dizzy Gillespie: Newport Blues (from Newport Jazz Festival 7/3/1959; available on Wolfgang's Vault)
19) McCoy Tyner: Four by Five
20) George Wein: Please
21) Uncle Tupelo: Graveyard Shift (preview for Kyla Fairchild of interview)

* Performing at Newport Jazz Festival 2010.