George Wein, the jazz impresario who produced the Newport Jazz Festival and consequently set the template for modern music festivals around the world, has died at the age of 95.
As a prominent promoter of jazz, Wein was as legendary as the festivals he produced. After organizing the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, he started the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and then adapted the model to start the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1970.
Throughout his career, Wein presented hundreds of music events across the United States and other parts of the world.
Wein’s spokesperson Carolyn McClair announced the news on Monday.
“It is with immense sadness that we let you know of the passing of our founder and north star, George Wein,” reads a message posted by 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.”
Established in 1954 by Louis and Elaine Lorillard in their Rhode Island hometown, the Newport Jazz Festival was the first outdoor jazz festival in the U.S. The inaugural festival boasted a star-studded lineup with Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and other jazz icons, drawing thousands of attendees to Newport during its two-day run.
In the 1960s, Wein founded Festival Productions, a company dedicated to promoting large-scale jazz events, and pioneered the idea of corporate sponsorship for music events, enlisting beer, tobacco and other companies to provide funding for his festivals and tours.
Wein has been honoured at the White House by two American presidents: Jimmy Carter in 1978 and Bill Clinton in 1993. He was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2005 and received a Grammy Honorary Trustee Award in 2015. He has received honorary degrees from the Berklee College of Music and Rhode Island College of Music, and he’s a lifetime Honorary Trustee of Carnegie Hall. He was a distinguished member of the Board of Directors advisory committee of the Jazz Foundation of America.
Wein was also an accomplished jazz pianist. His group, the Newport All-Stars, has toured the U.S., Europe and Japan.
His autobiography, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music, was named 2004’s best book by the Jazz Journalists Association.