Trad Archive: Miles Davis & Andover Shop

Horace

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IN FULL SWING -
AT 77, JAZZ IMPRESARIO AND NEWPORT FESTIVAL FOUNDER GEORGE WEIN IS STILL MAKING MUSIC HAPPEN
Boston Globe, The (MA)
August 7, 2003
Author: Jack Thomas, Globe Staff
Estimated printed pages: 6

NEW YORK - The summer air hangs hot and heavy in midtown Manhattan, but in the coolness of the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery on West 57th Street, surrounded by expressionist paintings that depict the struggle by African-Americans for equality, George Wein squints through spectacles to autograph a copy of his autobiography, "Myself Among Others," for Hugh Fierce, president of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

"Thank you, my old friend," says Fierce.
A woman in line opens a book for Wein to autograph.
"You're quite a legend," she says.
"Well," says Wein, "being a legend means you're old."
Just because it was 1950 when Wein opened Boston's fabled Story ville jazz club, where Ted Williams stopped by to hear Erroll Garner, and just because Wein, in founding the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 and later the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, has brought more jazz to more people than anyone else in the world, and just because Wein has a lode of memories about such jazz greats as Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, doesn't mean that Wein, at 77, is old - certainly not in New York jazz circles, where he moves as tirelessly as Earl "Fatha" Hines playing "Tea For Two."
Take today. Wein awoke early, hearing the echo of Ornette Coleman's sax from the previous night's concert. He worked the phones and then lunched with jazz journalists but left unaware that they had planned to surprise him with an award as promoter of the year.
For a hemorrhage in his eye, Wein's doctor advises rest.
"I can't," says Wein. "I've got a two-hour book signing at 5, and then I'm playing piano for two sets at Birdland."
Forty-nine years after the debut of the Newport Jazz Festival, Wein again this year is producing the JVC Jazz Festival Newport, as it's now called. The festival, tomorrow through Sunday, features a nod to the past with Dave Brubeck and a nod to the future with the Bad Plus. It's one of the 25 festivals that he and his staff of 70 put on each year.
At the art gallery, elevator doors open every few minutes and half a dozen more patrons of New York's art and music communities emerge to buy a book, line up for Wein's autograph, and then make their way to the bar before mingling among the smart set to talk about jazz.
For young jazz fans, Wein's anecdotes about a half-century behind the scenes provide a rare glimpse into jazz history.
"George has dealt with great figures going back to Eubie Blake, who was born in 1883," says Michael Anthony, host of a Saturday night jazz program on WHPC-FM in New York. "His stories give you a whole different perspective on jazz."
For the book, Wein recalled anecdotes into a tape recorder, had them transcribed into 1,000 typewritten pages, and in 1999, to assist with the writing, hired Nate Chinen, then 22, who has a poetry degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
They visited the Buckminster Hotel, once home to Storyville, and the house in Newton where Wein lived as a teenager. The new owner asked Wein to identify the young musician in a photograph that had hung in the basement for 40 years. As he blew away the dust, Wein realized the young man was George Wein.
The first third of the book is a romp through jazz in Boston in the '40s and '50s: the day Wein urged Miles Davis to visit Charlie Davidson's Andover Shop in Harvard Square for clothes, the afternoon he let Benny Goodman win a golf match so as not to diminish his performance on the clarinet, and the night he took Billie Holiday to Durgin Park, where she told the waiter that she wanted a female lobster. "Billie," said Wein, "can they tell the difference before a lobster is cooked?"
There are stories about Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus and why Ella Fitzgerald refused to sing at the funeral of Louis Armstrong (she came to mourn) and about the night Duke Ellington asked Wein to get the telephone number of a hooker. Wein asked, why a hooker? To which Ellington replied, "George, we must all dig a little distortion every once in a while."
Taking it in stride
At Birdland on West 44th, it's a few minutes to 9 p.m., and the crowd is lined up to pay a $30 cover for the first of two sets by Wein's sextet. He's stationed at the bar, where he can monitor arrivals, wave to friends, and, if necessary, jab them gently with his cane. Beside him is sax man Lew Tabackin, who has played with Maynard Ferguson, Clark Terry, and Cab Calloway.
Butterflies?
"Nah," says Wein. "A night like this is fun. I've never played with this group, but I promise you, it'll swing."
As the lights dim, Wein makes his way to the stage, climbs up awkwardly, secures his cane under the piano stool, plops onto the bench, and adjusts the mike, looking less like a jazz impresario than like a teacher of classical piano about to explain the subtleties between Schubert and Schumann.
"Ladies and gentlemen," says a voice from somewhere, "please welcome George Wein and the Newport All-Stars."
Above cheers, Wein counts, "One, two, three," and the sextet rolls into a rousing, 16-minute rendition of "Lady Be Good."
Around the room, candles flicker on tables laden with Southern fried chicken, Creole gumbo, Cajun shrimp, Louisiana catfish, and, here and there, a copy of Wein's book. When the applause subsides, Wein introduces Rodney Jones on guitar, Tabackin on sax, Peter Washington on bass, Mark Taylor on drums, and Regina Carter on violin.
Between sets, he drinks a Chivas and soda and banters with his wife, Joyce, and two friends, Tawana Tibbs and her husband, Bruce Gordon, who left a business meeting in Puerto Rico to be at Birdland.
Sitting across from Wein are two young admirers.
"These girls would like champagne," Wein says to a waitress. "Look at them. They're made for champagne."
"Thank you," says Town & Country writer Chantal McLaughlin, blushing.
Back at the Baldwin for the second set, Wein is interrupted by a woman who takes his photograph, bows, and backs away. Seeing a friend from Boston, Wein riffs into "Southie Is My Home Town." The night concludes with a spirited "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" in the midst of which Wein delivers a stride solo that brings spontaneous cheers. As the room brightens, Victor Horwitz from Burlingame, Calif., bounds to the stage.
"George, that stride was great. I owe you a pair of socks."
Horowitz is one of the fringe characters who make the jazz world fascinating beyond the music. Now retired from Levi Strauss & Co., he comes from San Diego twice a year to hear jazz and demonstrates his gratitude by giving musicians a pair of Docker Sox, one size fits all.
"I've given away hundreds," he says, "to Dick Hyman, Wycliffe Gordon, and George Wein. He's got a drawer full."
As the crowd filters into the heat of West 44th Street, Wein poses for two Japanese businessmen. When his driver, Tony, arrives, Wein and Joyce nestle into their Mercedes and head home to their flat on East 69th Street. It is nearly 1 a.m.
Tales of days gone by
At 8 o'clock the next morning, in the dining room of his seven-room apartment, a bleary-eyed Wein breakfasts on orange juice, coffee, and English muffins with apricot jam and talks about a half century of jazz. He has a seemingly endless catalog of anecdotes and observations.
Sarah Vaughan: "A tough lady. I never gained her trust, but nobody did. She wasn't a stupid girl, but she had a cocaine problem and with her highs and lows it caused her to be - well, in the book, I didn't call her a bitch, I just talk about her bitchiness. She was a great artist. We had four singers never equaled: Billie and Ella and Sarah, and I'd put Dinah Washington in the group."
Jazz critics: "I feel empathy for them. They love jazz and devote their lives to it but make so little money I don't know how they live. Some are on such a minimal plane economically that their ego is what they write to. Some of them do not realize that their job is to promote the music.
Erroll Garner: "He played like he was the whole band, saxophones, trumpets, strings. Today, when critics write about piano, they don't write about Erroll, which is too bad, because he's one of the five greatest jazz piano players ever."
Discrimination: "Joyce is African-American and I'm Jewish, and we laughed when restaurants put us at a back table. But we didn't have chips on our shoulder, so people were comfortable with us. Growing up, I never held it against people who called me a dirty Jew. People are what they are for a reason. If you understand the reason, you understand the people. So, you put up with idiots because there'll always be idiots."
Given his age, death is rarely out of mind.
"I don't worry about it. I just don't want to die, because I love life so much. And I don't want to die in an accident, a plane crash or something. It would be damaging to so many people that know me, and it would leave things untidy."
What about life after death? "I don't think in those terms. Yes, there are miracles every day we can't account for, but my philosophy relates to life as we know it, not as we don't."
Caption:
PHOTO
Caption:

1. George Wein takes the stage at New York's Birdland in June. / GLOBE PHOTO / JOE TABACCA
2. Jazz promoter George Wein has written an autobiography, titled "Myself Among Others," that is full of observations and anecdotes about the greats of jazz. / GLOBE PHOTO / JOE TABACCA
 
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