Wein, George

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WEIN, GEORGE (1925– ), U.S. pianist, jazz festival organizer, record label founder and owner, entrepreneur. George Wein is nothing if not a realist. When he realized that despite his family pedigree (his father was a prosperous doctor in Newton, Mass., who also played piano) he was more drawn to music than to grad school, he dropped out of Harvard to play jazz wherever he could in the Boston area. When he realized that, as he himself has said, he was not a great musician, merely a highly professional one despite training with Margaret Chaloff and Teddy Wilson, he started a Boston jazz club, Storyville, which quickly became a mecca for music both old and new. Wein was adept at finding and filling gaps in the music community; his most famous invention, the Newport Jazz Festival, first staged in 1954, was the first regular outdoor jazz festival in the world. When Newport became a less convivial venue in the 1970s, he moved it to New York without hesitation (although a small version has continued in Newport throughout). His programming has always been an inventive balance between the commercial and artistic, mixing every possible genre of jazz and related musical crossovers. As Wein has said, a jazz festival should offer "a broad spectrum of what jazz is in any given year." Wein also pioneered the concept of corporate sponsor association with music events, putting sponsors' names on his festivals long before the practice became the norm. Among his many honors it should be noted that he was both a member of the Legion d'Honneur in recognition of his creation of the contemporary jazz festival, and a recipient of a Jazz Masters award from the National Endowment for the Arts. This is only appropriate for someone who single-handedly remade the business end of jazz. "Not many people can say they changed the world and make it stick," remarked Gene Santoro in Nation. "Without Wein everything from Woodstock to Jazz at Lincoln Center might have happened differently – if it happened at all."


R.J. DeLuke, "George Wein: Dinosaur Walks the Earth," in: All About Jazz, at: www.allaboutjazz.com; N. Hentoff, "George Wein, a Life in and for Jazz," in: Jazz Times, at: www.jazztimes.com; F. Jung, "A Fireside Chat With George Wein," in: All About Jazz, at: www.allaboutjazz.com.

[George Robinson (2nd ed.)]