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Jazz at Newport Turns 50 Amid Worries for Future

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  • Steve Berry
    Jazz at Newport Turns 50 Amid Worries for Future By Justin Kenny NEW YORK (Reuters) - George Wein, the 78-year-old founder of the now legendary Newport Jazz
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 6, 2004
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      Jazz at Newport Turns 50 Amid Worries for Future

      By Justin Kenny

      NEW YORK (Reuters) - 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 genre.

      The event, now called JVC Jazz Festival Newport, turns 50 years old
      next 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 Brubeck.

      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 gone.

      "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 (news) 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 lineup with rhythm and
      blues and world music artists to appeal to a wider audience.

      "I am 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.

      "The concept 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 6 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 spring.

      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.

      "Miles Davis 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.

      While 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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