Producing a Jazz Festival Is Fun, But Never Easy

George Wein blogs about the past, present and future of the Newport Jazz Festival

I produced the first annual jazz festival in 1954 in Newport, Rhode Island and have been producing jazz festivals ever since—58 years.

At the beginning, and for many subsequent years, it was fun, never easy, but fun. It was as if one entered a Parisian patisserie or confiserie, and had his or her pick of the finest confectionary delights in the world.

For example, there were many sugar-coated bits of chocolate called M&Ms: Monk & Mingus; Max, & Miles; McCoy & MJQ, and for older jazzophiles, Muggsy and Miff.

Then there were exquisite huge wedding cakes with facsimiles of the bride and groom placed stiffly with feet embedded in the deep, delicious, desirable frosting: Duke and Ella; Basie and Billie; Dizzy and Sassy; Pops and Mahalia; and even Woody and Anita; and Stan and June. All could have been wedded to each other. Musically they were matches beyond category.

The Mr. and Mrs. Wedding cakes were just the beginning. In the penny (now 25 cents) a piece box was the "All-Star Candy Jazz Band." We can't mention all of them, but there were many saxophones: Creamy - Hawk and Pres; a bit chewy - Trane and Sonny; Jawbreakers - Ornette and Cecil (how did a piano get in here?); and the smooth and blue - Rabbit and Bird.

It was impossible to gather all the drummers: Buddy and Gene; Joe and Jo (guess); Elvin and Roy. But before this metaphor gets beyond control, let's examine why "on a raison."

As the judge in "Law & Order" says,
"Get to the point Counselor!"

And the counselor replies,
"Please give me a few more moments, Your Honor."

The names in the candy box keep rolling out, covering all instruments:

Oscar, Erroll, Fatha, Teddy and Hank. Mary Lou, Hamp, Bags and Red. Tal and Barney, Jay, Kai, Higgy. Ron, Milt, Benny, Artie and Pee Wee. (Back in the thirties writers looking for corny metaphors called it the "Licorice stick"!!!).

The list can go on for as long as you can stand it. Many have been added: Herbie, Chick, Wayne, but we are getting to the point.

If you are veteran jazz fan, you will know these names and recall a musical memory. Can you identify them?

The original cadre of critics, Ira, Nat and Dan will know "Miff." Not too many others will know.

No selection from the above bag of goodies will be at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival on August 3, 4 and 5. But the contemporary Newport Jazz Festival is a stage for the presentation of some of the genius and energy that floats through the emerging generation of musicians who believe in the music and are using creative talent to show that jazz lives and still can have new and exciting choruses.

Do you know Dafnis, Evan, Darcy, Anat, Christian, Ambrose, Lionel, Jason, Rudresh, Kurt, Vince, Gretchen, Maria, Jenny, Virgil, Avishai? Add the Jacks, Johns, Daves, Howards, Kens, Gregs, Lewis, Jims, and Georges, and you have Newport 2012.

The names in the above paragraph are not too familiar, but they just might be representative of the direction jazz is taking. I have been out many nights in the past 4 months to hear most of the musicians that will appear at Newport.

I hope that the visibility provided by a performance at the Festival helps to make the public in general, and jazz fans in particular, aware of the talent of these artists.

Are they the future of jazz? I don't know, but they surely reflect what is happening in the catacombs of jazz clubs and lofts and other "schools" where the music is nurtured.

I am 86 years old. I want to devote the few years left to me to using Newport as a stage for the unique artistry that is out there. Jazz, with Newport the principle vehicle, has been my life. If Newport is to continue, it must have a purpose and not be "Just another jazz festival."

Our mission is to recognize that jazz is an ever-evolving art form, and whatever influence we have must be used to aid and abet its development. Great jazz, in its glorious traditions, will always be part of our festival, but, to put it simply, "youth will be served."

That is why I write this blog. For over sixty years, I have earned my living by producing and creating events that have changed the presentation of outdoor summer musical events in the world. But jazz is no longer a business for me. I wish musicians and journalists to know this. I am working "Pro Bono" (Don't be confused, it does not mean that I'm promoting a famous Irish Rock & Roll Star. It means I don't take a fee or expenses for the work I do on Newport. ) Literally, we are non-profit. My friends and myself on the Board of Directors of the Newport Festivals Foundation, and many others are donating funds to help the NJF live and be true to its mission.

The lineup for the 2012 Newport Jazz Festivals is:

SATURDAY, AUGUST 4 ~ 11:30 am - 7:00 pm

Fort Adams State Park, Harrison Avenue

Pat Metheny Unity Band
Dianne Reeves
Jack DeJohnette All-Stars
Jack DeJohnette Quintet
Bill Frisell - John Lennon Songbook
Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Quintet
The Bad Plus with Bill Frisell
James Carter Organ Trio
Dafnis Prieto Sextet
3 Clarinets: Ken Peplowski, Evan Christopher, Anat Cohen
Christian McBride's Inside Straight
John Ellis & Double-Wide
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
Pedrito Martinez Group


SUNDAY, AUGUST 5 ~ 11:30 am - 7:00 pm
Fort Adams State Park, Harrison Avenue


Tedeschi Trucks Band
Maria Schneider Orchestra
Jason Moran and the Band Wagon
Kurt Elling
Miguel Zenón's Rayuela
Jenny Scheinman & Bill Frisell
Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet
Rudresh Mahanthappa's Samdhi
Gretchen Parlato & Lionel Loueke with special guest Becca Stevens
John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet
3 Cohens: Yuval, Anat and Avishai Cohen
Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks
Lewis Nash Quintet
Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Centennial Project
Berklee Global Jazz Institute Sextet.

For more information and to check out the complete program, including sidemen/women performing with these bandleaders, log on to www.newportjazzfest.net.

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