Friday, August 8, 2014

Love and reverence for a jazz tradition

The 60th anniversary edition of the Newport Jazz Festival turned into a weekend of love and reverence toward its founding producer, George Wein. He started the event in 1954 with backers Elaine and Louis Lorillard, a high society couple who wanted to liven up the summer social season.

More than a dozen jazz festival producers from venues across the U.S. and around the globe were on hand last weekend. Many of them introducing bands of the three festival stages at Fort Adams State Park, all of them thanking Wein either publicly or privately for starting the jazz festival tradition in which they are all now involved so deeply.

Wein’s current operation, The Newport Festivals Foundation (nonprofit successor to his long-running Festival Productions Inc.), is one of 16 or so members of the International Jazz Festivals Organization. Its members work together to develop synergies and to keep an eye on emerging talent the world over. They meet four times a year, with the U.S. meeting usually taking place in New York in September. This year, they adjusted their schedules to meet in Newport in August.

The many visible producers and representatives at Newport included Joan Crarach of the Barcelona Jazz Festival, John Cumming of the London Jazz Festival, Bertrand Fleming of Belgium’s Ghent Jazz Festival, Andre Menard of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Carlo Pagnotta of Italy’s Umbria Jazz, and Melanie Pose of the Melbourne Jazz Festival.

The domestic representatives included Tim Jackson of the Monterey Jazz Festival, Willard Jenkins of the Tri-C Jazz Festival in Cleveland, Randall Kline of the San Francisco Jazz Festival, Don Lucoff of the Portland (OR) Jazz Festival, John Nugent and Marc Iacona of the Rochester (NY) Jazz Festival and Janis Burley Wilson of the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival.

Newport add jazz have been synonymous since 1954, even during the Wein-produced festival's 10-year absence caused by rioting rowdies in 1960 and 1971.

These producers from around the world, traveling back to the source, underscore that there is a strong future for the festival format. So did the thousands of fans who braved nasty weather last weekend to hear top-flight jazz from many of its finest practitioners. 

The foundation set up by Wein, now 88, is designed to ensure it will last for many years to come. Another 50 or 60 anyone?

Photo caption: European jazz festival producers Fritz Thom (Vienna), Carlo Pagnotta (Umbria) and Hans Zurbrugg (Berne) pose backstage with bandleader Darcy James Argue and Newport Jazz Festival founding producer George Wein for festival photographer Ayano Hisa.

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