The George Wein Interview: Part II

Back in March of 2021, I had the incredible opportunity to talk with George Wein, jazz impresario and creator of the Newport Jazz Festival. I specifically talked to him about Dave Brubeck and his quartet, a subject he was more than happy to discuss. This is the last half of that interview. If you missed the first half, you can check it out here. Mr. Wein and I talked over the phone on March 9, 2021. To the mus… my bad. To the words!

Me: You started a Newport that went to Europe, you went to French Lick, etc. It seems as if on all those diff concert tours, you always had Brubeck there.  What was the reason you brought Brubeck along to all of those different places?

Wein: He sold tickets and I was the promoter. But I also just enjoyed working with Dave. It was a pleasure working with him. He made your life easier. You didn’t worry about him causing you problems. He had respect for other musicians, and believe it or not all the other musicians -I never heard another musician, whether Miles or Blakey, or who ever you want to think of, at that level that didn’t show respect to Dave Brubeck. That’s something that people don’t realize, and now even Wynton Marsallis has spent a lot time with Brubeck’s music. He became a fan of Brubeck’s.  That was late-coming. Dave Brubeck is a classical figure, a classic figure, and we’re very grateful to have known him and have worked with him.

Regarding other artist’s opinions/respect, Miles and him publicly had a tumultuous relationship but privately were friends.  Is that true? Any stories about him and other artists.

When names came up, I never heard Miles say a negative thing about Brubeck, and he would say a lot negative things about a lot of people.  At festivals, when Dave and Miles were on, Dave would always go over and say hello to Miles.  He wouldn’t wait for Miles to say hello to him, he would go over to Miles.

What about Paul?

Paul was a lot more involved with the general music scene. Paul hung out – if the musicians were hanging out at Jim and Andy’s and he was in NY, Paul would be at Jim and Andy’s with Jim Hall, people like that.  He loved Jim Hall.  But Dave didn’t hang out like that. Dave went home with Iola and the kids.

About the sidemen. Any stories?

Eugene Wright and Joe Morello were on the tour of NY so I got to know them pretty well.  Joe was a good guy, Eugene was a wonderful human being.  We used to kid [Joe]. Joe he was blind, he had a problem seeing, he needed help. He wasn’t totally blind but he needed help. They just fit. The rest of [the sidemen] were in and out. But once he got Morello and Eugene Wright he stayed with them. When Morello… believe it or not, I recommended a drummer for [Dave], Alan Dawson. I recommended him. He was a Boston drummer and I knew Alan for years. 

Talk about bringing the Newport Jazz Festival (NJF) concept to the world?

Well, the NJF was known all over the world because of the Voice Of America (VOA). The VOA got to jazz fans everywhere, and when I got out word that I wanted to bring a festival package to Europe, there were promoters all over Europe that wanted to work with us.  We had varying degrees of success. We went to [Yugoslavia], Spain, to Paris, to Scandinavia, Amsterdam, Brussels, Vienna, and I’m still friendly with the promoters.

Was there a different audience reaction overseas to jazz or to Brubeck?

Not really, about the same. People always ask about that, maybe different in clubs, but in festivals about the same.  Pretty much similar. 

I’ve gotta ask. Did you notice any racism directed at the group or Eugene Wright?

No, I never noticed. I may not have noticed because it’s there all the time. Racism is endemic and I’m sure Gene ran into a lot of problems.  He was black, and as the expression goes, you’ve never been black in your life, so how will you know what it’s like to be black?  But our festivals broke down a lot of racial barriers.  A lot of places where we went like French Lick, Indiana, we broke down the… We integrated the swimming pool!  Dizzy Gillespie jumped into the swimming pool and he was the first black man to do that!

Has the Dave Brubeck Quartet left a legacy in the jazz world?

That’s an interesting question.  It’s easy to say that people remember the DBQ for “Take Five” and being able to play jazz in 5/4 and time signatures, and that’s a great legacy you know.  Of course, their legacy goes beyond that, but that’s what people remember.  To this day, people are going *hums melody to “Take Five”* and that pioneering in time structures has probably been the major part of his legacy.  

Are they still relevant?

I think anybody playing good music is relevant.  I have total respect for their kids, because they had to overcome Dave Brubeck as a father!  People always look at them as “well they’re Dave’s kids”.  That’s a good group!

They really are! Thank you again Mr. Wein for talking to me. I really and truly appreciate this. Is there anything else you wanted to add?

Write a good book. That’s all I say. If you want to write a book, write a good book.  There haven’t been very many books on Dave Brubeck.  I’ll just close this with the last time I saw Dave. The last time I saw Dave was at his house. He died a few weeks later.  At Newport… at least ’12, he was supposed to play with his family and he called me to come over. He was in an automobile, and he said “George, I just can’t do it. I don’t feel up to my standards of what I feel should be my playing. Would you forgive me if I don’t play?”  And we sat there and talked for 20 minutes about anything. I forget what we talked about. I’m sure we talked about our skunk. We always laughed about that skunk. But it was very moving, we sat in our car outside the walls of the festival and just the two of us, and Iola was in the back seat, and we just talked, and that was the end, and that was very moving.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask: What do you think was Dave’s defining characteristic was?

I always said that Dave was a total gentleman.  And that defined the way everyone felt about him. He was a gentleman! He respected everyone. He commanded respect from you without asking for it. He just represented the best a person could be.  I have never known him to be negative! He was kind, he was generous, if things didn’t go well, he didn’t get upset. If things went well, he didn’t gloat. He just was a beautiful human being.

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