Jazz Fest founder talks beginnings, looks towards festival's future

Jazz Fest founder talks beginnings, looks towards festival's future
George Wein (FOX 8 Photo)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - It was absolutely perfect weather for the first weekend of Jazz Fest and no better time for the festival's founder to make an appearance. FOX 8 had  the chance to speak with him, one-on-one about Jazz Fest's beginnings and what lies ahead.

He's an icon.

"I met him when I was 19," said Jazz Fest Producer Quint Davis. "My mentor."

Davis is talking about 92-year-old George Wein, the founder of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The year 2019 will mark 50 years since his creation first came alive.

"When I first did Newport in 1954, that was a festival, we called it the first annual," said Wein.

He explains there was no plan for a second year.

"When you say 'first annual', you had to do it again," said Wein. "So when we came to New Orleans, we knew it was just the first annual. We knew it would continue to as long as the people enjoyed it and it kept growing and growing and now it's the greatest festival in the world."

A festival that has stood the test of time.

"To think of all the things that happened over 50 years-- the society, the economy, 9/11, Katrina, enormous amounts of things have gone by. To still be relevant, to still be really big 50 years later, that's something George taught us," Davis said.

Davis says his life revolved around but he says he knew little about managing the business side of things until he met Wein. With help from his mentor, he's learned lessons to live by.

"He said, to do something great, you have to master the economics of creativity because, if you don't, you'll do something once, it'll cost a lot and then it will be over and never keep going," explained Davis.

Now, Davis manages Wein's legacy. A festival with music and food, yes. Yet, Wein says it's the people who make Jazz Fest what it is today, from those experiencing it for the first time...

"I've got an eight-month-old, we brought him out for his first Jazz Fest," said attendee Matt Williamson. "It's a way of life down here."

To those who have years of memories already under their belt.

"We've been serving out here at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival probably for 41 years," said vendor Vicky Patania. "It's in our blood."

While Wein says some pop shows are for the young and some concerts are for the old, Jazz Fest is for everyone.

"It's for all ages, all people, African American, white people, Latino people. It's a mixture of music and a mixture of people. It's what America can be and should be. That's why it's a great festival," said Wein.

Wein, with the help of two other people, is still producing the Newport Jazz Festival out of his New York apartment.

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