Producer George Wein
Veteran producer, pianist, singer, club owner George Wein. He's the founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, the Newport Folk Festival, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In the early 1950s he founded the jazz clubs Storyville and Mahogany Hall in Boston where jazz giants Art Tatum, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and Miles Davis played. In 1954 he launched the Newport Jazz Festival where he presented Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Dave Brubeck and others. The other music greats he knew and worked with: Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Louis Armstrong. Now 77 years old, Wein has written a new autobiography (with Nate Chinen), Myself Among Others: A Life In Music.
Other segments from the episode on July 2, 2003
DATE July 2, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: George Wein discusses his career in music as performer,
club owner and festival organizer
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
We had expected to be joined today by The New York Times Jerusalem bureau
chief James Bennet, but he was on deadline and had to postpone our interview
until next week. That's the bad news.
The good news is that my guest is music impresario George Wein. He created
the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 and the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. He
also founded the Kool Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage
Festival, the JVC Festival and other music festivals around the world. He
started his life in music as a jazz pianist. Here he is singing and playing,
recorded in 1955.
(Soundbite of "Pennies from Heaven")
Mr. GEORGE WEIN: (Singing) Every time it rains it rains pennies from heaven.
Don't you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven? You'll find your
fortune falling all over town. Be sure that your umbrella is upside-down.
Trade them for...
GROSS: George Wein has written a new autobiography called "Myself Among
Others." In 1950, before he started his festivals, he opened a club in Boston
called Storyville that featured the top jazz performers of the time. I asked
him how his experiences as a musician helped shape what he wanted out of the
Mr. WEIN: I guess I wanted to make a living. I didn't know much about what I
was going to do for my life, but I wanted it to be known as a musicians' club,
a club owned by someone that loved the music, was part of the music and
presented the best possible jazz available.
GROSS: As opposed to what kind of clubs had you performed in that weren't
very friendly to musicians?
Mr. WEIN: Most of the clubs were owned by individuals who had a liquor
license. And they wanted to sell liquor and put in music hoping that they'd
draw some people.
GROSS: You write in your book, `I didn't know what it was like to be the man
until opening Storyville. Suddenly, I was in a position of hiring musicians,
most of whom were older than I was and often famous. Many were
African-Americans who had an inherent distrust of whites, never mind white
nightclub owners.' What were some of the difficulties you faced being the
Mr. WEIN: The basic thing was that I loved these musicians, and I found out
that they did not love me. I was, as I say, the man. And I would ask them
things and they just would look at me with a blank stare sometimes because
they didn't trust what I had to say or what I asked of them. That was
difficult to understand. It took me years to fully comprehend how to accept
GROSS: Well, how did you learn to gain the musicians' trust?
Mr. WEIN: That's a good question, and every musician had a different reason.
I was talking about Thelonious Monk, being on the road with him, when I had to
run up and down the stairs five or six times to get him on the stage. And I
finally yelled at him, `Thelonious, get the hell on the stage!' And he went
up and played for 45 minutes a drum solo, had the drummer featured. Then he
came off the stage and I said to him, `What was that all about, Thelonious?'
He said, `You hadn't ought to yelled at me.' And I told him I ran up and down
the stairs and I was getting too old and fat for that. He says, `You had to
run up and down the stairs? I don't blame you for yelling at me.' And that
was when I gained the trust of Thelonious Monk.
In many areas with different musicians, it's a different story. With Miles
Davis, I bounced a check on him and he got the message that we were going to
be equals and he wasn't going to push us around and I wasn't going to push him
GROSS: But wait. You intentionally bounced a check on him?
Mr. WEIN: No, no. I intentionally bounced it because he didn't play the job.
And he figured that I had paid him two days before the job, and I bounced the
check on him. And he says (imitating Miles Davis), `Well, why did you bounce
the check?' And I said, `Why didn't you play the gig?' (In normal voice) And
so that solved that problem.
GROSS: Did it bother you to have to sometimes play the heavy with musicians
who you kind of idolized?
Mr. WEIN: No. I never really played the heavy except when it actually was
necessary. Basically, I established a rapport with them. I found out that
they respected me for playing the piano. And then when I married my wife,
they knew where my feelings were, my deepest feelings were, and that meant a
lot in gaining the respect of African-American musicians.
GROSS: Your wife is African-American.
Mr. WEIN: My wife is African-American. We've been married since 1959, which
is a long time since we'd have been put in jail in 25 percent of the states at
GROSS: You have hired many of your idols over the years to play at festivals
and to play in your club when you owned it. Did some of your idols not really
remain your idols because you saw their behavior offstage?
Mr. WEIN: I used to say to Stan Getz--I'd say, `Stan, how can you be so evil
and play so beautifully?'
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WEIN: And Stan would say to me, `Man, I'm changed. I'm changed. I'm
not going to be the same.'
GROSS: What kind of behavior did he display that led you to call him evil?
Mr. WEIN: He was evil, what evil is. He treated musicians badly, he treated
club owners badly, he was involved with drugs and you couldn't trust his word.
And you had to be very careful with him, but he was a great, great musician.
GROSS: Did he lie to you about performances that you expected him to play?
Mr. WEIN: I think he lied to me about everything we ever talked about at
different times, but I loved him. I really did. And at the end, we were very
GROSS: Now when you were running Storyville, there was something of an
alcohol scandal that you had discovered. Describe what happened.
Mr. WEIN: I leased a room from a hotel. I didn't own a liquor license, and
we were buying the liquor from the hotel. And the next thing I know, my
bartenders were telling me that I was getting Johnnie Walker Black Label
Scotch, but it didn't have Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch in the bottle;
the label said it. And it seemed that the hotel owner was putting this stuff
on me and charging me regular prices. That's why he gave me such a good deal.
I was very young, and finally people were complaining. I went up to the hotel
owner and told him I had to have my liquor in sealed bottles. He wanted to
change the deal. I found out that--I didn't even think, but I closed the club
in one night. I could not start business with that kind of a dishonest
reputation. My feelings were so deep about it I didn't even stop to think
about it. I closed the club. I knew then that honesty was important to me.
GROSS: When you closed the club, did you make some kind of public statement?
Mr. WEIN: No. We just said, `We're closed and we'll reopen in another
location as soon as we can.' I did not indict the hotel owner.
GROSS: So you were able to open the club again in a different location.
Mr. WEIN: We opened about eight weeks later, never caught the atmosphere that
we had when we first opened, which was quite sensational for six weeks. But
as the years went on, we played the greatest artists in jazz. I don't care if
it was Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan or Miles or Duke or Louis, Art Tatum,
Bird, they all played Storyville. And that's where I really learned my trade,
and then that's what has directed me to where I am today.
GROSS: You gave up your club, Storyville, and then ended up starting the
Newport Jazz Festival. So what was your first concept of the out-of-doors
summer jazz festival?
Mr. WEIN: The concept was to present jazz from J to Z. I always had that
feeling. So I presented a group, like, with Eddie Condon and Wild Bill
Davison on the same bill with Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano, and in the
middle, you know, Ella Fitzgerald and Gene Krupa; a total view of the spectrum
of jazz. I always felt that's what a jazz festival should be. We can't
always do it, but in those days, it was not difficult because there were so
many great jazz musicians still with us.
GROSS: What were your first thoughts about getting good sound outside?
Mr. WEIN: That was difficult because there was no history of good sound
outside, and we experimented for two or three years before we found out what
to do. The second year, in particular, was difficult, and that was the year
that Miles Davis put his horn right in the microphone and came out with a
beautiful "'Round Midnight." And Columbia signed him, and that was the
kickoff to his great career in the '50s.
GROSS: One of the most famous performances at a Newport Jazz Festival was the
Duke Ellington performance in 1956. Why was this a turning point in
Mr. WEIN: Ellington, to me, was a god always. I didn't realize that he
wasn't doing business wherever he went. Well, he made a record of this
incredible performance. It was recorded, and it was the biggest selling album
he ever had. What happened that night was literally a happening. A woman
started to dance in the audience. It made news the next day, `Ellington broke
up the festival.' The crowd was orderly, but for the first time, they were
all standing on their feet. And Ellington reached out. He made the cover of
Time magazine very shortly after that. And ever after that, he said, `I was
born at Newport in 1956.'
GROSS: The musical centerpiece of that night was a performance of "Diminuendo
in Blue," and the saxophonist, Paul Gonzales, blew about 27 choruses on that
in his solo. That's a lot of choruses. That's a long time. What were you
thinking when his solo went on and on?
Mr. WEIN: I was worried about crowd control 'cause I saw the crowd coming
towards the stage and standing up. But really, there was no serious problem.
I think the record shows that I was saying, `Duke, take it out, take it out.'
But it was so exciting that we were all caught up in it. And what I learned
that night was the way Duke Ellington brought the crowd down after Gonzales
finished. He had Johnny Hodges play a beautiful ballad and a blues, and the
crowd just settled back into their chairs. It was a beautiful experience.
GROSS: Well, let's hear part of the Paul Gonzales solo on "Diminuendo in
(Soundbite of "Diminuendo in Blue")
GROSS: That's Paul Gonzales soloing on Duke Ellington's "Diminuendo in Blue"
in the Ellington Band's performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz festival. My
guest, George Wein, was the creator of the Newport Jazz Festival and many
other festivals. His new memoir is called "Myself Among Others: A Life In
Well, George Wein, a little later in that evening, the Duke Ellington
performance was going on and on. You wanted the performance to end, and
Ellington wasn't ending it. Why were you anxious to wrap things up?
Mr. WEIN: I was anxious 'cause I was concerned that--it was the first time I
ever felt any nervousness about a crowd, and I don't remember it that well. I
really recollect it from the recording, where my voice is heard telling Duke,
`No more, Duke. No more,' you know. But Duke was not going to give up that
moment. That was one of the great moments in his life with 12,000 or 15,000
people cheering for him and the band sounding so great, so he just kept doing
it until he realized that the evening was over. But he did the right thing.
He really did the right thing.
GROSS: He did the right thing in keeping going and not listening to you to
Mr. WEIN: Absolutely. I mean, you know, look, I'm only me. I mean, Duke
Ellington's Duke Ellington. He did know a little bit more than I did. I was
very young, and I was learning from him every minute.
GROSS: Let me play the track that's called "Riot Control" on the CD version
of this 1956 Newport concert. And here you are at the mike trying to end the
concert as people start booing you.
(Soundbite of "Riot Control"; crowd booing loudly in background)
Mr. WEIN: That's it. Let's go. That's it, though. That's it now. That's
all right. No! No! No! I mean it now.
GROSS: George Wein, what's it like to stand before thousands and thousands of
people who are booing you 'cause you want to end the concert?
Mr. WEIN: I never was a great baseball player, so I don't know what it was to
strike out with the bases loaded, but I really didn't hear the boo. I mean,
in all honesty, you don't hear those things. Your mind is so involved with
what you're thinking at the moment that you don't hear those things.
GROSS: At the Newport Jazz Festival, when you started the festival, were the
audiences pretty integrated, because there were obviously black and white fans
for the performance that you were presenting, but it was an area of New
England that I think was very predominantly white?
Mr. WEIN: We had a small percentage of blacks at the beginning of the
festival. There were always blacks that liked jazz; the mass audience was
usually white. We had a few racial problems the very first year when some of
the hotels weren't used to blacks coming to the hotels and registering, and
they were refused. But after one year, that ended, and a few years later,
they elected an African-American mayor of Newport. So you have your
influence, and what you do influences the attitude of people, and we're very
proud of that. Problems are always there. The whole thing is to just not
fight the problems. In a sense, just make people aware that these problems
are useless and that they don't have any meaning, and let's go straight ahead.
GROSS: My guest is music impresario George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz
and Folk Festivals. His new autobiography is called "Myself Among Others."
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is music impresario George Wein. He's created music
festivals around the world. His new autobiography is called "Myself Among
OK. Well, you not only did the Newport Jazz Festival. You created the
Newport Folk Festival. Were you interested in folk music?
Mr. WEIN: I'm interested in all musics, including opera and symphony and folk
music and world music. I love artistry. Artistry is what draws me. It's not
the style or the concept. If a person's an artist, I can appreciate him. And
I used to play a lot of folk artists in Storyville and was needing an
attraction every week, and I was influenced from Barnie Josephson's Cafe
Society and Max Gordon at the Village Vanguard. I went to their clubs before
I had my own club. And so Pete Seeger and Odetta and groups like that and
artists like that had played Storyville.
Now we had presented tap-dance afternoons and gospel afternoons at the Jazz
Festival. And I said, `We'll do a folk afternoon.' But I found out we had
much more available, and we should do a festival.
GROSS: Why don't you share one of your personal high points from the Newport
Mr. WEIN: I think that one of the personal high points was when we brought a
tin whistle player from South Africa, Spokes Mashiyane, and we didn't know how
he got there. I mean, we sent him the fare for a ticket, and he was lost, so
we thought. And finally, he showed up just on our doorstep in Newport. He
went on the stage, and we used to draw 15,000 people at that time, all avid
folk fans. And he played with that tin whistle, and he had a jazz feeling.
And Pete Seeger and I went up to play with him--I played the piano, and he
played the guitar. And he just played, sounded like Lester Young on a tin
whistle. And when he finished playing, the entire 15,000 people stood up and
cheered. It was a magical moment.
GROSS: One of the most famous moments from the Newport Folk Festival was when
Bob Dylan performed with his band and they used amplifiers, so it was
electric. Dylan had gone electric.
Mr. WEIN: And that was the expression: Dylan went electric.
GROSS: Yeah. And a lot of his fans felt betrayed that one of their, you
know, folk music heroes had now plugged in. What were you thinking when he
Mr. WEIN: That was a time I was aware of the booing. Some people have tried
to write that there wasn't any booing. There was a lot of booing, and there
was a lot of consternation backstage. And there were legends that have come
down and are untrue about Pete Seeger wanting to take an ax and cut the sound
system. That just was not true. He was in a car holding his ears and asked
me to do something about it. I said, `There's nothing we can do, Pete.'
But what I did was I went up to Dylan after he finished on the stage, and I
said, `Bob, you've got to back and do an acoustic tune.' And he said, `I
don't have a guitar.' And I said, `It's a folk festival.' I turned around,
`Does anybody have a guitar?' Naturally, about 40 guitars went in the air,
and Petey Farrow gave him a guitar, and he did go back and sing "It's All Over
Now Baby Blue," and it was a very poignant moment. It was more important
historically than it was to me at that moment 'cause I was just acting as a
producer and acting by instinct.
GROSS: Why did your instincts tell you that he should go back on stage and
play something acoustic?
Mr. WEIN: Again, I was not concerned with the riot, but I was concerned with
the crowd, the feeling of the crowd. It was a terrible disappointment to the
real Dylan fans who didn't know anything about his going electric. And it
really was an important moment that had changed the approach to music by young
people who were folk fans, because a lot of their friends had adopted the new
music of The Beatles and they were fighting them, saying, `No, the real music
is our folk music.'
And when Dylan went electric, it gave them the right to go along with their
friends. And then they all became lemmings and went in the direction of The
Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and were part of their whole youth situation,
which was great, you know. But it took away a lot of individuality in
listening to music.
GROSS: If you really thought it was great, you wouldn't have used the word
Mr. WEIN: Well, you know, music had never had that feeling before.
Everybody had a--the concept of what was good didn't always relate to what was
the most popular. So once the rock 'n' roll world came in, the most important
groups were the ones that sold the most records. In jazz, Glenn Miller sold
more records than Duke Ellington ever dreamed of selling, but Duke Ellington
was still the boss. In piano, there were a lot of great piano players, but
all of the piano players stood up when Art Tatum came into the room. In rock
'n' roll, they stood up when the guy that sold the most records came into the
room, and that's always the way it's been.
GROSS: George Wein. His new autobiography is called "Myself Among Others."
He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with George Wein, founder of
the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals. And David Edelstein reviews "Terminator
3: Rise of the Machines."
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with music impresario George
Wein. He's the creator of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals, the Kool Jazz
Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and other music festivals
around the world. He started his career as a jazz pianist. His new
autobiography is called "Myself Among Others." When we left off, we were
talking about the impact of rock music on the Newport Folk Festival.
What did you first think when you watched the Woodstock Festival? I'm going
to assume that you weren't at the festival, but that you watched the news
about the festival.
Mr. WEIN: I really didn't comprehend hit. I didn't understand it. That was
the year that I played a lot of rock groups at Newport in 1969, and I had
played them because the underground press, which had become so important, was
demeaning jazz and saying that Ian Anderson was a better flute player than
Rahsaan Roland Kirk, or as good, and Ginger Baker was as great a drummer as
Elvin Jones. And so I called a friend of mine and I said, `Which of these
groups can really play?' and I put a lot of them on the festival. And there
was so many groups on the festival that Jimi Hendrix called me personally,
which nobody believes. He called me personally and said he'd like to be on
the festival. And I said, `Jimi, I don't have any room for you.' And anybody
says you didn't have room for Jimi Hendrix has to be crazy in the legends of
what's happened in the rock 'n' roll world.
But I knew there was something going on up there, but I was not aware of it
till I was standing on Broadway and I saw hundreds of kids with backpacks
getting on buses to go up to the Catskills. It was an amazing phenomenon. I
had never seen anything like it, and I wasn't aware that it was happening.
GROSS: When you watched the news footage of it, did it strike you as, like, a
good thing for the future of festivals or a bad thing?
Mr. WEIN: Well, it wasn't a good thing for the future of Woodstock; they
didn't do another festival for 25 years. And we did 25 festivals in between
that. So I don't know. That's a tough question. They're two different
worlds, rock festivals and jazz festivals. They're closer now than they used
to be because music is--there is a curiosity developing among young people to
hear different kinds of music. And world music and everything has been
influenced by electronics now so it's very seldom you hear any group that
doesn't have some electronic concern in their presentation. So they're closer
now, but I don't know.
Rock 'n' roll is so huge in our society; it's affected our clothing, it's
affected our food, it's affected our style, everything. And we're, in a
sense, an anachronism in our love and the direction for jazz, but we still
stay alive and we find that festivals like New Orleans Jazz and Heritage
Festival can still draw around 100,000 people when we have great programs, and
people come for the food and for the crafts and for the many diverse musics we
GROSS: A couple of years after Woodstock, in 1971, you ran a festival that
you ended up basically closing early. There nearly was a riot in this one.
What was it about?
Mr. WEIN: That was 1971. There were no rock festivals and the underground
press, which was quite important in those days--it's not so important
now--they said there were no festivals happening, but there were some good
sounds in Newport. And if you went up to Newport, you could stay in the hill
outside the festival and hear the music. So hundreds of kids--thousands of
kids started coming into town and camping on the hillside. And I had asked
the police to keep the hillside clear, but they ended up double-crossing us
and sending people to the hillside to keep them out of town.
What happened was that those kids sat there and they were getting stoned and
really getting stoned. The drug scene was very full in those years, very
important in 1971 to young people. And they just announced they were going to
be on the stage at 9:00 on Saturday night and they got together. We had a
chain-linked fence. They put 2, 300 bodies together at the fences in various
places, and when they finally broke down, it looked like tanks had gone
through the fences. They want on the stage. I went up on the stage with my
wife and we said, `Please file out.' We had 20,000 people at that time. The
crowds had grown from 15 to 20,000. They filed out without incident, a sense
of resignation that there was no control over what was happening in the world
at that time, in the world of young people. Free music was what it was all
GROSS: So they wanted to storm the stage; not to perform on stage, but just
to make a statement that the music should be free and open to everyone.
Mr. WEIN: I asked them, `Why? You didn't have any talent.' They said, `How
do you know we don't have any talent?' I said, `Because you wouldn't be silly
running around out here trying to break this fence down if you had any
talent.' I was standing right there at the fence when they were breaking it
down. Father O'Connor, a Catholic priest, was with me. It didn't stop them
from doing it. It was just part of a way of life at that time. Music should
be free, and they were just doing their thing and that's all.
But there was no riot at the festival. The cops cleared the hillside and
cleared the kids. At 5:00 the next morning, it was all over.
GROSS: That must have left you with a really bad feeling.
Mr. WEIN: It left me with a sense of emptiness for awhile, but my wife tells
me that even is things were happening, I was planning on what I might do the
next year. And I realized that the Newport Festival had significance and
meaning not only to me and to America as a jazz phenomena, but to the world as
a symbol of what jazz was. And I knew that you could not do a festival at
that time in suburban areas and vacation areas and resorts. So I said, `We
have to take it to an urban area,' and I says the best place to do it would be
New York City. And so that's when I took the festival, which is now the JVC
Jazz Festival, to New York and then established the format for all urban
festivals throughout the world right now.
And what it did was the use of many facilities: boat rides in the Hudson
River, midnight jam sessions, Carnegie Hall, Philharmonic Hall, dances,
forums and panels and just, you know, like, 40 events during the course of a
festival going, of course, for 10 days. We kept Carnegie Hall and
Philharmonic, which is now Avery Fisher Hall, open after--they both agreed to
keep it open for me because they used to close for the summer. And now New
York is just a festival all summer long as before it was dead. We were
responsible for bringing New York to life in the summer. We really were.
GROSS: My guest is music impresario George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz
and Folk Festivals. His new autobiography is called "Myself Among Others."
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is George Wein. He created the
Newport Folk Festival, the Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and
Heritage Festival, the Kool Jazz Festival, the JVC Festival, etc. He has a
new memoir called "Myself Among Others: A Life in Music," and that life in
music includes playing piano.
Not too long ago, your festivals would, you know, always have an anchor who
would be, you know, a center, or like a focal point, like a musician who was
like a brilliant musician, but also very kind of commercially popular: Miles
Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan; people of that caliber. And like those
three people and many others, many of them have passed. And those people who
were both, you know, the most revered musicians and singers in jazz were also
among the biggest draws. Is it harder to find those people now who have the
reverence and the draw at the same time?
Mr. WEIN: It's very difficult. You have people that have the draw like--and
as a singer, Diana Krall is a wonderful draw and a wonderful artist. But
something happened this year that was very interesting to me. Ornette Coleman
played in New Orleans and he played in the jazz tent there. The people were
mesmerized by him. There were thousands of people crowding in the tent and
outside of the tent. They cheered every note that--every solo that Ornette
played. This would not have happened years ago. But the ears of the crowd,
the ears of the jazz listener are opened up to new sounds. And
Ornette's--talk about reverence. There was a total reverence for Ornette
GROSS: You've seen many of the musicians who you've loved most, who you were
closest with and who are among the greatest musicians, you know, in the
history of the music--you've seen many of them die. Do you ever feel lonely
out there, like you've outlived so many of the people who you came up with?
Mr. WEIN: It isn't that I feel lonely, but sometimes I hear music and it's
talking to me and I literally get tears in my eyes, 'cause the music means so
much to me. And having known so many of these great players--not just the big
names like Duke or Louis--I knew them all--but you know, the ones that I write
about in the book that are not necessarily the genius, but they're the troops,
you know, the ones that made jazz happen and to which we owe an unfathomable
debt. And when I hear those people--and, you know, not only did I list them,
I played with a lot of them. A lot of them toured with the Newport All-Stars.
I mean, I played with people like Lester Young and Sidney Bechet, some of the
greatest artists in the world, and Clark Terry and Buddy Tate and Buck
Clayton, you know, from the history of jazz. I've had the good fortune to
have played with and worked with so many wonderful players. And they talk to
me and I get a beautiful about it. Not a sad feeling, it's a beautiful
feeling that I knew those people and was close to them and they were part of
my life, and maybe I was part of their lives.
GROSS: You started your career playing and doing some singing, as well. Do
you still play piano?
Mr. WEIN: I still play. I played for five days--I haven't played very much
in the past few years, but I played for five days in Bern at a festival there
where Hans Serber(ph) asked me to put an all-star group together. And I asked
Regina Carter if she would play with me. And I couldn't...
GROSS: The violinist.
Mr. WEIN: The violinist. And she's a beautiful young girl and she's, I
guess, in her 30s. And she agreed to play with me. She said it would be an
honor. I says, `Don't say it'll be an honor until you hear when I play,'
'cause we had never played together.
We went there. It was an inspiration to play with that young lady. I mean,
after two nights, my hands got in shape and I had a good band. I had Rodney
Jones on guitar and Jesse Davis on alto and Alvin Queen on drums and Warren
Vache on cornet. It was a mixed up type of band--a young clarinet player by
the name of Irvin Christopher(ph) from New Orleans, who plays in an older
style. I had be-bop players, traditional players. I had a band that went in
so many different directions. But every night, we got a standing round of
applause. For five nights, we played three hours a night; you know, two
hour-and-a-half sets. It was really thrilling, and I felt that I could still
play a little bit.
But when I hear great piano players, I realize the inadequacies of my playing.
So I just do my thing for my own kicks and I don't try to do more than I can
GROSS: There have been festivals where I could see that the big draw was
going to be, say, the fusion group--this would be a few years ago--and that,
you know, a few musicians on the bill who I figured were your personal
favorites that they were going to be with the smaller performance spaces
'cause they weren't going to do quite as well as, say, the big commercial
fusion group. Has being in this business for so long ever made you cynical
about popular taste?
Mr. WEIN: Oh, yes. I mean, you do get cynical of all popular taste. There's
no question about that. If I wasn't cynical about that, I'd be a rock 'n'
roll producer and would have made a lot more money. I mean, I'm a great
compromiser in many respects, 'cause I believe the formula for my longevity is
a concept of commercialism with credibility. All these little musicians you
talk about are people that I have great respect for. We did a concert just
the other week about--saluting two veterans like Frank Wess and Joe Wilder,
and we didn't have a big audience, but the response was electric and it was
just total warmth.
So the point is credibility and presenting young musicians and new musicians
and new things along with the artists that sell tickets, that's the reason
we're still alive. That's the reason that we're still in business after 50
years. Next year's the 50th anniversary of Newport.
GROSS: Wow. In writing this memoir, you had to pick through your mind and
hopefully some journals that you had, if, in fact, you had any journals, in
order to revive the past, you know, as you lived it. What was that process
like for you of trying to remember things that happened to you over the years?
Mr. WEIN: The process of remembering was relatively easy 'cause I only
remembered what I remembered. A lot of that sounds strange, but what I
remembered I remembered vividly and that's what I put down. The things that I
didn't remember too vividly I didn't use. The young man that worked with me
on the book, Nate Chinen, did some research on things, and he went through a
lot of my papers. And we found some fascinating things--for instance, letters
I had written to Miles Davis that I had forgotten all about--that I use in the
book, where I start off one of the letters, `I always knew you were evil, but
I never knew you was stupid or crazy.' And...
GROSS: What were you writing him about?
Mr. WEIN: Well, we made an offer for a European trip and he was holding me
off, you know, and we couldn't get an answer out of him. And I said, `Look,
if the other guy gives you a better offer, go with them,' you know, something
like that. And then he met my wife on the street and said, `I like George,
but he doesn't respect me.' And so then I wrote him another letter saying how
much I respected him and, you know, that he was one of the important figures
in jazz, and my whole life was working with important people, you know. And
after that, you know, along with other things, we developed a good friendship.
But Miles liked to be talked to that way 'cause that's the way he talked to
people, you see. So I established a rapport.
But we had to dig to find those letters, and when I found them I was so happy
to use them, because they did reflect my attitude and how I worked with Miles
and how I established a relationship with a guy who was really a unique human
being, Miles Davis, and in his way a very beautiful, beautiful man.
GROSS: Well, George Wein, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. WEIN: This is a wonderful interview. And thank you very much. You did
read the book, and that's the most important thing. A lot of people interview
and they don't read the book. And you asked me wonderful questions, and I
want to thank you very much for that.
GROSS: George Wein's new autobiography is called "Myself Among Others."
Here he is singing and playing piano, recorded in 1955. Ruby Braff is
featured on trumpet.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. WEIN: (Singing) The bird with feathers of blue is waiting for you back in
your own back yard. You'll find your castles in Spain 'neath your windowpane
back in your own back yard. You can go to the east, go to the west, someday
you'll come weary at heart back where you started from. You'll find your
happiness lies right under your eyes back in your own back yard.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. WEIN: (Singing) Go to the east, go to the west, someday you'll come weary
at heart back where you started from. You'll find your happiness lies right
under your eyes back in your own back yard.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: George Wein from the reissue of his 1955 recording "Wein, Women and
Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "Terminator 3." This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: New movie "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines"
TERRY GROSS, host:
It's been over a decade since Sarah Connor, John Connor and a muscle-bound
machine with a thick Austrian accent saved the world from nuclear annihilation
in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Now there's a new terminator and this model
may be the meanest yet. "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" opened
nationwide today. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:
Everybody's talking about what an impossible legacy the young director
Jonathan Mostow has to live up to in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,"
the first "Terminator" picture that doesn't have writer/director James Cameron
at the helm. Folks, we're not talking "Godfather I and II" here. We're
talking about a crackerjack 1984 B-movie that turned the joke that was Arnold
Schwarzenegger into a joke that the big guy was in on and a sequel that was
basically one long chase with state-of-the-art for 1992 computer effects. A
lot of people walked out of the theater all pumped up and with their ears
ringing, but you could say the same thing about a monster truck rally.
Still, there was something nice about "T2." It had a female action hero,
Sarah Connor, at a time when that was a novelty and a strangely endearing
futuristic family: mom, son and lumpy-jawed Teutonic ex-terminator. The trio
stopped the machines from wiping out the human race. The future was now
gloriously open, or so we thought.
In "T3," it all begins again. The latest terminator assassin arrives naked
from the future, kills someone for a wardrobe, then goes off to kill the
leader of the future resistance against the machines. Then a protector
arrives naked, but manages to get a wardrobe without killing anyone. Here's
the rest of the template: chase, breather for exposition, bigger chase, more
exposition, then a chase that just happens to lead someplace with a handy
hydraulic press or foundry.
"T3" has a couple of variations. Sarah Connor is history, having died between
the movies. Her son, John, played by Nick Stahl, is 23 years old and a
drifter. No longer destined to save the world he supposedly already saved,
he's reduced to breaking into an animal hospital to steal phenobarbital. The
vet is played by Claire Danes. And here's a coincidence for you: Her dad is
in charge of Skynet, the supercomputer that sent those terminators back from
the future in the first place.
The latest model terminator, the T-X, is a fembot, played by Kristanna Loken.
Here's what she can do: morph into other people, plug into machines and make
them do her bidding and use her hand like a laser cannon. But she isn't as
much fun as "T2's" Robert Patrick, who had a sort of newly hatched blankness
with stuck-out ears that gave him the look of an especially willful
five-year-old. The joke was that Cameron had found someone smugger and
blanker than Schwarzenegger. The joke here, if you can call it that, is
watching Schwarzenegger bash a pretty blonde's head through a urinal to no
The audience awaits the arrival of the big guy. And I must say, with
40-year-old Demi Moore going bod to bod with Cameron Diaz in a bikini in the
terrible new "Charlie's Angels" picture and the 54-year-old Schwarzenegger
showing off his rock-hard gluteals, it's been a banner year for personal
trainers and plastic surgeons. Schwarzenegger gets to total cars and deliver
deadpan understatements like, `We need a new vehicle,' and he's constantly in
search of the right pair of shades. But he's not the same lovable robot from
"T2," which he explains in this scene to Nick Stahl and a captive Claire
(Soundbite of "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines")
Mr. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: (As T-101 Terminator) No sign of brain trauma.
Mr. NICK STAHL: (As John Connor) Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks. Hey, do you even
remember me? Sarah Connor? Blowing up Cyberdyne? `Hasta la vista, baby'?
Ring any bells?
Mr. SCHWARZENEGGER: It was a different T-101.
Mr. STAHL: What do you guys come off an assembly line or something?
Mr. SCHWARZENEGGER: Exactly.
Mr. STAHL: Oh, man. I'm going to have to teach you everything all over
(Soundbite of door sliding open)
Mr. SCHWARZENEGGER: Katherine Brewster, have you sustained injury?
Ms. CLAIRE DANES: (As Kate Brewster) Drop dead, you...
(Soundbite of door sliding close)
Mr. SCHWARZENEGGER: I'm unable to comply.
EDELSTEIN: That excerpt is misleading since most of the dialogue is tinnier
and most of the soundtrack consists of crunching metal and deafening music.
But Mostow does deliver the goods: car and truck chases that bring whole
buildings crashing down, virtually indestructible machines that throw each
other through walls and a villain that comes back more times than Wile E.
There are no surprises until the end, which I won't spoil, but which flies in
the face of everything that James Cameron stands for. Say what you will about
Cameron's aesthetic. He has a mighty faith in the power of heroic individuals
to take on fate and win. But it turns out that there's a historical
inevitability more powerful than Cameron or even Karl Marx could have
conceived: the relentless drive for sequels. As the Terminator famously puts
it, `I'll be back.'
GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.