George Wein, Jazz Festival Trailblazer, Is Dead at 95

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

His dying was introduced by a spokeswoman, Carolyn McClair.

Jazz festivals weren’t a wholly new concept 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 Nice in 1948. But there had been nothing as bold because the competition Mr. Wein staged that July on the grounds of the Newport Casino, an athletic advanced close to the historic mansions of Bellevue Avenue.

With a lineup together with Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and different stars, the inaugural Newport Jazz Festival drew hundreds of paying prospects 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 payment.

But it was profitable sufficient to benefit 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 1960s, festivals had turn into 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 sphere to himself: Major occasions just like the Monterey Jazz Festival in California, which started in 1958, and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, which started in 1967, had been the work of different promoters. But for half a century, if there was a big jazz competition anyplace on the planet, there was a greater than even probability it was a George Wein manufacturing.

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

Where Jazz History Was Made

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 Records on the power of his impressed taking part in at 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’s Day,” probably the most celebrated jazz films ever made.

Mr. Wein’s empire prolonged past jazz. It included the Newport Folk Festival, which performed a significant function within the careers of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and lots of different performers. (It was at Newport that Mr. Dylan despatched shock waves by way of the folks world by performing with an electrical band in 1965.) He additionally produced the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, 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.

The Newport Folk Festival, which Mr. Wein additionally produced, performed a significant function within the careers of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and lots of others; it was at Newport that Mr. Dylan despatched shock waves by way of the folks world by performing with an electrical band in 1965. But jazz was all the time Mr. Wein’s past love.Credit…Alice Ochs/Michael Ochs Archives, through Getty Images

His one enterprise into the world of rock was not a cheerful expertise. Gate-crashers disrupted the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival, whose invoice for the primary time included rock bands, amongst them Led Zeppelin and Sly and the Family 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 Folk Festival, 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 Festival to New York City, the place it grew to become a much less bucolic however extra grandiose affair, with concert events at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall and different places round city. Under varied names and company sponsors, the New York occasion continued to thrive for nearly 40 years. In addition, 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 people at Newport helped pave the best way for the phenomenon of Woodstock and the profusion of rock festivals within the late 1960s and early ’70s. But jazz was all the time his past love.

Playing and Promoting

He was a jazz musician earlier than he was a jazz entrepreneur. He started taking part in piano professionally as an adolescent 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 last performance as a jazz musician.”)

He was a superb participant, within the relaxed, melodic vein of the nice swing pianist Teddy Wilson, with whom he briefly studied. But he decided early on that taking part in jazz can be a precarious method for him to make a residing, and he grew to become extra targeted 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 Festival, which she and her husband, Louis, financed. And the success of that competition decided the route his profession would take.

The crowd at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1967. The competition grew to become referred to as a spot the place jazz historical past was made.Credit…Associated Press

George Theodore Wein was born on Oct. three, 1925, in Lynn, Mass., close to Boston, and grew up within the close by city of Newton. His father, Barnet, was a physician. His mom, Ruth, was an beginner pianist. Both 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 choice.

Mr. Wein took his first piano classes at age eight and found jazz whereas in highschool. By the time he entered Northeastern University in Boston, he was starting to assume critically a few profession in jazz.

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

In his autobiography, “Myself Among Others: A Life in Music” (2003), written with Nate Chinen, he stated that he knew by then that “music was a crucial part of my being,” however that he additionally knew that he “had neither the confidence nor the desire to devote my life to being a professional 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.

Rough Patches

Mr. Wein encountered some tough instances within the early years of the Newport Jazz Festival. 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 “rebel” competition in one other a part of Newport in direct competitors. But each occasions had been overshadowed when throngs of drunken youths, unable to get tickets to Mr. Wein’s competition, descended on town, throwing rocks and breaking retailer home windows. City officers shut the Newport Jazz Festival down, though the Mingus-Roach occasion was allowed to proceed.

As a results 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 offered 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.

Coverage of Mr. Wein within the jazz press grew extra adverse over time, and the criticism would persist for the remainder of his profession. In 1959, the critic Nat Hentoff known as the Newport Jazz Festival a “sideshow” that had “nothing to do with the future of jazz.” (Mr. Hentoff later modified his tune: In 2001 he wrote that Mr. Wein had “expanded the audience for jazz more than any other promoter in the music’s history.”)

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 lots of his worst notices and patiently explaining why they had been incorrect.

Mr. Wein in 1970. For half a century, if there was a big jazz competition anyplace on the planet, there was a greater than even probability it was a George Wein manufacturing.Credit…David Redfern/Getty Image

The two Newport festivals had been established as nonprofit ventures, however in 1960 Mr. Wein shaped a company, Festival Productions, to run what quickly grew to become a worldwide empire. At the corporate’s top it was producing festivals and excursions in some 50 cities worldwide. Over the years he additionally tried his hand at private administration and document manufacturing.

After years of, by his account, struggling to interrupt even, Mr. Wein grew to become a pioneer in company sponsorship within the late 1960s and ’70s, enlisting beer, tobacco and audio gear firms to underwrite his festivals and excursions. There was the Schlitz Salute to Jazz, the Kool Jazz Festival and, most enduringly, a partnership with the Japanese electronics big JVC, which started in 1984 and lasted till 2008.

“I never realized that you could make money until sponsors came along,” he informed The New York Times in 2004. “The credibility we’d been working on all those years always brought media notice. And then the opportunity for media notice was picked up by sponsors.”

In 1959, Mr. Wein married Joyce Alexander, who labored alongside him as a vp of Festival Productions for 4 a long time. She died in 2005. No quick relations survive.

Presidential Honors

Over the years Mr. Wein acquired quite a few honors and accolades. He was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2005 and inducted into the French Legion of Honor in 1991. He was honored by two presidents, Jimmy Carter in 1978 and Bill Clinton in 1993, at all-star White House jazz concert events celebrating the anniversary of the primary Newport Jazz Festival. In 2015, the Recording Academy gave him a Trustees Award for lifetime achievement.

In 2007, 9 years after a deal to promote 80 p.c of Festival Productions to Black Entertainment Television fell by way of, the corporate was acquired by a newly shaped firm, the Festival Network. Mr. Wein remained concerned, however as an worker — a sort of producer emeritus — and never the boss.

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

He additionally discovered new sponsors for the Newport Jazz Festival — first a medical gear firm and later an asset administration agency, Natixis — to interchange 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 had been later partly sponsored by the jewellery firm Alex and Ani.

Mr. Wein at his house in 2004, the yr the Newport Jazz Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary. He knew from an early age, he stated, that “music was a crucial part of my being,” however he additionally knew that he “had neither the confidence nor the desire to devote my life to being a professional jazz musician.” Credit…Associated Press

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

He finally handed over the reins of each festivals, though he remained concerned till the tip. Jay Sweet grew to become producer of the folks competition in 2009 and 6 years later was named government producer of the Newport Festivals Foundation. 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 instances since 1991, was named creative director.

The coronavirus pandemic prompted the cancellation of each festivals in 2020, however they had 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 telephone, and Andra Day, through FaceTime.)

“At my age of 95, making the trip will be too difficult for me,” he wrote. “I am heartbroken to miss seeing all my friends.” But, he added, with a brand new crew in place to run each festivals, “I can see that my legacy is in good hands.”