September 8, 2010

A Fine Vintage Wein

Myself Among Others: A Life In MusicGeorge Wein knew and/or worked with just about everyone in jazz over the last half century. His autobiography, Myself Among Others (Da Capo, 2004), written with Nate Chinen, is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the life of a jazz producer and sometime performer.
     Wein grew up in the Boston area and opened the Storyville Club there in 1950. But he is the creator, most famously, of the Newport Jazz Festival, which helped take the popularity of jazz to a whole new level in the 1950s and launched the careers of numerous jazz greats. Wein’s book shows the struggles, financial and otherwise, in putting on a jazz festival. Local politics, money problems, and artist egos all make for numerous headaches. But Wein’s dedication to jazz and jazz musicians shines through.
     Over the subsequent years, from the 1960s to the present day, Wein also produced the Newport Folk Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Newport Jazz Festival - New York, the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival, KOOL Jazz Festivals, the Grande Parade du Jazz (in Nice, France), the JVC Jazz Festival, and more. He also produced the foreign tours of numerous artists, including Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. In many ways, he was a lifeline for jazz musicians (and the jazz tradition itself) during some difficult times, when rock ‘n’ roll was on the rise and jazz was superceded in importance in American culture.
     The later parts of the book become a bit repetitious, as we get yet more lists of musicians at yet another concert. Nevertheless, Myself Among Others is a great look past the stage at the people in the wings putting on the show. Wein has some great anecdotes and insights into many of the musicians he numbered among his friends, and enemies. For example, Wein tried to recruit Josephine Baker for a 1974 tribute concert, and spent several days fruitlessly scouring Manhattan for two Russian wolfhounds, which were stipulated in her contract. She canceled her appearance anyway. Tidbits like this make the book a highly enjoyable read.

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