Georges Wein — the legendary festival promoter who helped make Newport Jazz and Folk festivals staples of the US concert calendar, founded the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and paved the way for the modern music festival – died Monday at 95 year. Her spokeswoman Carolyn McClaire announced the news.
“It is with immense sadness that we inform you of the passing of our founder and star in the north, George Wein,” read a note posted on the Twitter accounts of both Newport festivals. “We have all lost a giant champion of jazz, art, philanthropy and equality. There will never be another like him. Rest easy, George.
“George Wein defined what a music festival could be with the Newport Jazz Festival, the Newport Folk Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival,” LL Cool J said in 2015 when presenting Wein with a Grammy Honorary Trustee Award. “He’s a great guy. More than anyone, George set the stage for what today’s big festivals look like; festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo… he made it happen…”
Wein was hired by festival founder Elaine Lorillard to organize the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954. From there, it grew into a signature event, featuring the biggest names in the genre. Bert Stern’s famous documentary Jazz on a summer day chronicled the 1958 edition of the festival, which featured everyone from Louis Armstrong to Mahalia Jackson and Thelonious Monk. After being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the festival has rebounded in 2021, featuring contemporary stars like Robert Glasper, Yola and Christian McBride.
Wein launched the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. The event would become an institution of the American folk and roots scenes, helping to relaunch the careers of blues legends such as Mississippi John Hurt and launching those of artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. He then adapted his Newport model to New Orleans, launching the now world-famous Jazz & Heritage Festival there in 1970 – after being banned from producing a festival in previous years due to his interracial marriage – which now features rock icons alongside roots legends.
Born in Boston in 1925, Wein grew up playing the piano and leading his own band. In the early 1950s, after serving in World War II, he founded his own jazz club and label, both called Storyville.
Over the decades, Wein’s festivals have laid the foundation for the music festival as a cultural unifier. “I saw it as an opportunity to promote jazz on a large scale and to expose people of all ages to this great music,” Wein told writer Marc Myers in 2008. “For the first time, the people who didn’t go to the clubs or couldn’t get in because they were too young now could see and hear the live music and musicians, outdoors, in a relaxed, laid back setting.”
Wein missed the Newport Jazz Festival last summer, but in previous years he could often be seen zooming around the grounds of Fort Adams State Park in a golf cart known as the Lean Green Wein Machine. .
“If you step back and think about it, George Wein and Pete Seeger created the word ‘festival’ as we use it,” Newport Folk executive producer Jay Sweet once said. Relix. “Before that, there were only wine and opera festivals in Europe. The  film Festival! talks about Newport because, for 10 years before Woodstock, in this country, the word “festival” meant “Newport”. Literally, the words were synonymous with each other.
“I never imagined that I would be producing a jazz festival in the first place,” Wein said in a 2010 interview with Headcount. “I never had the motivation. I just did them, and when something went wrong I always thought of something else to do. I called it Newport’s ‘First Annual Jazz Festival’, and I was inspired by the classical music festivals that went on for so many years. So maybe I had longevity in the back of my mind. But I never thought there would be festivals everywhere like today.