October 31, 2014
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George Wein dreams big
Don Fowler

Jazz pianist and impresario George Wein has always been a big dreamer.

The Boston native founded the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, the first outdoor jazz festival in America. He followed that up with the Newport Folk Festival in 1959. He has brought the greatest musicians from both genres to Rhode Island every year since.

The list is too long to print. Jazz artists Louie Armstrong, Dave Brubeck and Tony Bennett, plus folk legends Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, are but a few that we have seen over the years.

Wein has always been a big dreamer, and at age 77 he continues to dream. Recently, he gathered a group of journalists, board members and jazz aficionados together in Newport to discuss the future of the festivals.

“My big dream,” he said, “is to expand the festivals, creating a link between the Folk Festival weekend and the [subsequent] Jazz Festival weekend.

He asked everyone with an idea to contact him. One idea floating around was a series of gospel concerts. With the popularity of country music on the rise, a suggestion was a series of country concerts featuring some of the up-and-coming Nashville stars.

There is no question that the Folk Festival has become a top event in the world of festivals. For two years in a row the festival has sold out – this year within weeks of tickets going on sale.

George told me that he believes that there are many young people out there who are turned off to heavy metal and rap and turn to folk music as many of us did in the ’60s. The question remains as to what is folk music, and the answer isn’t clearly defined. But whatever it is, it is drawing large followers to Fort Adams every August.

While folk has been an overwhelming success, jazz has become a hard sell, with diminishing attendance over the past few years. It was encouraging to see a number of young people, including music students, in attendance this summer. The program offered everything from Vince Giordano and his Nighthawk Orchestra, playing jazz from the 1920s and 1930s to the modern Tedeschi-Trucks Band.


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