Myself Among Others: A Life in Musicby George Wein with Nate Chinen
DaCapo Press, 544 pp., $27.50
George Wein is one of the most successful of all music producers; he's been associated with the Newport Jazz Festival since it was founded in 1954 and with the Newport Folk Festival as well. He was a founder of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. Back when he was getting started in producing and promoting, there were no schools to learn how to do these things.
Wein was a jazz pianist. He loved the music and wanted to be associated with it, and that's what he did. He started by opening a Boston nightclub and record label, both called Storyville. As opportunities to promote music and to produce the kind of sounds he loved hearing came along, he accepted them, challenge after challenge, setting up jazz concerts and festivals all over the U.S. and in Europe and Asia. Wein has had a creative and fulfilling life. He notes, "I would like to see my legacy continue. With any luck, this book will shed some light upon the importance of those of us who have dedicated our lives to the presentation, rather than the performance, of the music. Whether it's one of the many festival producers throughout the world, or the concert promoters, or the individual nightclub owners struggling night after night, these contributions are essential to the history and the future of this music."
Wein is proud of what he's accomplished in popularizing jazz and feels privileged to have been able to work with so many talented and fascinating people. He's analyzed what he's done here, and it seems to me that the primary reason for his success is that he's attempted to be as fair as possible to as many people as possible. Certainly he's a competent businessman, but he doesn't give any evidence here of financial wizardry. He's always had the greatest respect for the musicians he's worked for and with and has tried to make the best deals he could for them. Happily, they seemed to have recognized this in many cases and, in turn, have attempted to accommodate his needs. Wein tells one story after another about how artists ranging from Duke Ellington to bossa nova great João Gilberto went out of their way for him because he accommodated them.
Another reason for Wein's success has been his broad-mindedness. He came of age during the swing era, and some of his early heroes were Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Benny Goodman. Yet he didn't turn off when bop and more modern schools of music evolved. He realized men like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane were geniuses. He attempted to understand what Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor were trying to accomplish and wound up booking them.
Wein's story is inspiring, because he was guided by the notion that dealing fairly and decently with individuals will get them to treat you honestly as well. It's worked for him. "I have no intention to retire because I'm having too much fun," he writes. "Believe me, if I'm the greatest festival producer in the world, it's all right with me. Jazz is a dirty word no longer." And if it's not a dirty word, credit people like Wein, who attempt to do the decent thing whenever they have the opportunity, knowing that in the long run it'll be beneficial to them, knowing that "what goes around, comes around."