I’m not a photographer,” says George Wein. “I got some good shots but I was just a tourist.”
Some tourist. As the founder and, still today, producer of the Newport Jazz Festival, Wein has had unprecedented access to virtually all of the jazz greats of the past half-century. Although he never photographed his own festivals—”I had other people who did that”—Wein often traveled with the musicians and spent time with them away from the stage, clicking away.
“I have thousands of photos on my computer and I spend all of my time looking at them and thinking about all of the places I’ve traveled over the years,” he says. “I have photos of Miles and Coltrane, Cannonball in Mexico with Dave Brubeck and Mulligan. I’ve got some shots of Max Roach in Japan with Abbey [Lincoln], getting off a plane, and some wonderful shots of Red Norvo and Joe Venuti, and Monk and Blakey on a bus. Miles’ shots were at a party, with his wife and Gil Evans and his wife and their children. The ones of Coltrane are very good. In those days, you had to know the ASA’s and you had to focus. Now you just point a camera and shoot.”
Wein, 86, no longer takes photos because of health issues with his legs. “I use a cane so I can’t use a camera at the same time,” he says. “That’s not easy to do.”
He says he’s been asked for copies of some of his photos, but he has no plans to gather them into a book or exhibit them. “It was just a hobby,” he says. “But I wish I’d done more.”
Interview by Jeff Tamarkin. All accompanying photos by George Wein except photos of Wein, taken by John AbbottOriginally Published