Respect, not only for George Wein and what he’s accomplished, but mainly for jazz and the jazz musicians. That’s was George Wein hopes he’s achieving through his festivals. In this, part four of this five-part series, ‘A Conversation with George Wein,’ we learn about earning respect and trust, about the rise of young musicians, and the search for real leaders.
Editor’s Note: In case you missed any other part of this series – A Conversation with George Wein: Artistry – the Festivals (Part 1), A Conversation with George Wein: Madam Chaloff, a Bucket of Blood, and Storyville (Part 2) and A Conversation with George Wein: Motivation (Part 3).
QUESTION: What do you want audiences to take away from the festivals. Just pure enjoyment, or something more than that?
Wein: What I wanted all along was respect. Not just for me. Respect for jazz. Respect for jazz musicians. I worked with that. We were very responsible for a lot of the education; the directions jazz took. There were no musicians teaching in colleges until Maxwell Roach was approached to teach at the University of Massachusetts. Now, every musician I know teaches at a college somewhere. And they have a basic income, which allows them to work and still be a teacher. That didn’t happen before Newport. I’m not saying we’re totally responsible, but the publicity and promotion that Newport got on a worldwide level brought attention to jazz that had never been there before. Jazz was always the Roaring ‘20’s, or swing, Benny Goodman swing, kids dancing in the aisles of the Paramount Theater.
I wanted the same respect as my father had as a doctor. I wanted that respect when I got married. I got married to Joyce, an African American girl. I wasn’t a rebel. I’ve never been a rebel. I’ve lived my own life on my own terms, but that doesn’t mean I’m a rebel. Politically, I’m a liberal, but that’s not important. These things, in your life, I guess the think I’m happiest about is I’m still living, to see the changes and to be involved with the changes. I love bringing all the young musicians here to lunch. I’ve had 20 different musicians over here, just to talk with them, to get to know them on a basis that I didn’t know them before.
Remember, things were different in the 50’s and 60’s, the civil rights fight going on, there was a militancy among these African American musicians There was a defiance and to gain their respect and their trust you had to work and know how to handle that. I was pretty good at it. I would fight Miles and I would fight Mingus. In the end, they trusted me, because I fought them. When Miles didn’t play a gig, and I stopped payment on the check, he understood. In the end, he was telling them whatever George Wein tells me that’s what we’ll do. That was a part of what, I’d say I’ve done in life. When I took Theloneous Monk to Europe I had to guarantee that he would get on a stage. By the end of his career, before he got sick, Theloneous would do whatever I asked him to do, without a question, because he trusted me. And that meant everything. All of these things are part of your dreams.
QUESTION: Over the last few festivals, you’ve given the stage to college and high schools students, and now you have this program going into the schools in Rhode Island introducing jazz to some of these kids. What do you hope that does for some of these young musicians?
Wein: They’re only high school kids. You listen to them play, they’re fantastic. I remember when I was in high school there were two guys in a class in front of me, they went right from high school into the big bands. They didn’t go to college, they were good enough to go into the big bands. There were a lot of young high school kids all over the country who were good enough to play in the big bands. Most young kids never went to college. They went right into the bands. The fact that high school kids can play, doesn’t surprise me. The fact that there are so many mentors, teachers, that want to have a band and they make the band out of high school kids and they are doing this — this is great. It’s a great thing for jazz, and out of these high school kids … you only need one or two great players in a band to make a band sound good
QUESTION: Do you think there are more younger people interested in jazz?
Wein: There are more younger people than ever. There are thousands of people playing jazz. Every place there’s a high school band, college band, playing jazz. Are they dedicated or is this just something they’re doing while they’re getting an education? Like kids play soccer or football, they play jazz. They’re not going to be soccer players, they’re not going to be football players. You need a sense of leadership, creativity, and a little bit of genius. We can’t all be Charlie Parkers or John Coltranes, but we can be creative leaders. Create your own group, your own sound, and add to what jazz is. That’s what’s lacking. It’s not lacking in the young people attempting to do that. There are no leaders standing out in the crowd. Coltrane is still directing it. Everybody whose improvising today is still improvising like Coltrane. We need another leader to take this in another direction.
- A Conversation with George Wein: Artistry – the Festivals (Part 1)
- A Conversation with George Wein: Madam Chaloff, a Bucket of Blood, and Storyville (Part 2)
- A Conversation with George Wein: Motivation (Part 3)
- A Conversation with George Wein: ‘I’ve lived my own life on my own terms’ (Part 4)
- A Conversation with George Wein: ‘You Have to Say You Did The Right Thing’ (Part 5)