Jazz at Newport turns 50 amid worries for future
Updated: 2004-08-08 10:04
George Wein, the 78-year-old founder of the now legendary Newport Jazz
Festival, can boast a half century of success in drawing big audiences to hear
jazz, but he worries about the future of the quintessentially American musical
The event, now called JVC Jazz Festival Newport, turns 50 this
week and has long been a magnet for jazz's top talent including Louis Armstrong,
Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington and Dave
This year's festival, which opens on Wednesday for a five-day
run, is seeing the strongest ticket sales in five years and is attracting some
of the biggest names in jazz today.
Despite his feelings of pride and
nostalgia, Wein is worried about what will happen to the festival after he's
"The problem with jazz is that the legends are gone ... We have
many, many wonderful young musicians but they haven't the following that say a
Miles Davis had," said Wein.
This year's festival line-up includes Wynton
and Branford Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Harry Connick Jr., Ornette
Coleman and the man who has played more Newport festivals than any other artist,
83-year-old Dave Brubeck.
But Wein said he has an uphill battle when he's
selling jazz. Most years at Newport, Wein supplements a jazz line-up with rhythm
and blues and world music artists to appeal to a wider audience.
very unhappy in what is happening, in not just jazz, but in show business in
general because the only thing people are interested in is celebrity nowadays.
That's the only thing that really sells tickets," said Wein.
of creating a great cultural event + it doesn't have the meaning it had before.
This is a world of celebrity. You put one name on there that has what you call
celebrity and it sells more tickets in one hour than you can sell in six months
to a great festival," said Wein.
"I worry about that because there's not
that much celebrity involved in jazz at the moment. It's just great music."
FIRST OUTDOOR POP FESTIVAL
Wein is arguably one of
the most influential men in American jazz. In 1954, the short Jewish kid from
the Boston suburbs made musical history when he launched the first major outdoor
popular music festival in the United States at Newport.
Wein used the
event as a springboard and created and produced hundreds of festivals (not just
jazz) around the world including the Newport Folk Festival and the New Orleans
Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Wein still has the ability to draw crowds.
Tens of thousands flock to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival to hear a
blend of rock, funk, jazz, blues, cajun, zydeco and world music every
The lessons of marketing to today's celebrity-oriented audience
has been a difficult one for the jazz ambassador who has seen his festival
propel and reignite some of the great giants of jazz.
"A number of
musicians became influential and successful through appearances at Newport,"
according to columnist and jazz historian Stanley Crouch.
made his comeback at Newport so did Duke Ellington. Duke Ellington was kind of
at the bottom of the business and then he played a concert there in 1956 and
this blonde got carried away and started dancing in front of the band, then the
whole audience started dancing and they went crazy. So, Duke Ellington went all
they way up from the bottom right back up to the top," said Crouch.
much of the festival's glory lies in the past, Wein is hoping to create a few
legendary moments at this year's birthday celebration. Some of the planned
highlights include a tribute to John Coltrane featuring the late musician's son
Ravi and Michael Brecker on saxophone, bassist Christian McBride and Coltrane
contemporaries pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Roy Haynes.
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