Book Review "Myself Among Others" by George Wein-- Book Review
nvickers1 at cox.net
Wed Sep 24 21:49:04 PDT 2003
I'm posting my book review of George Wein's autobiography at your request.
This is in press for The American Rag.
Thanks. Your comments are welcome. I only met George Wein once when he was
a guest artist and honoree at the Sarasota Jazz Festival. I owned a 1957
copy of Look Magazine in which the story of the Newport Jazz Festival was
detailed. Since it wasn't in his library, I sent him the original, after I
made a photocopy for myself. I saw him perform once at New Orleans Jazz and
Heritage Festival and once in New Orleans when he was touring with the
George Wein All-Stars. As he says in his book, he was an average pianist.
Book Review (Word count 704)
By Norman Vickers
Myself Among Others: A Life in Music
By George Wein with Nate Chinen
Da Capo Press, © 2003, 522 pages with discography, end notes and index.
Reading this book is like taking a review course in the history of jazz over
the past fifty years. Wein with co-writer Nate Chinen has told the story of
his life in a compelling way. To their credit, rather then telling the
story in a strict chronological way, they have arranged chapters covering
various segments of Weins activity. For example, there are chapters on
Storyville, Weins nightclub in Boston; Newport Jazz Festival; Newport Folk
Festival; New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival; the move of Newport Jazz
Festival to New York; and the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France. Wein
has one chapter each on his relationship with Thelonious Monk, Duke
Ellington and Mile Davis.
Wein grew up in the Boston suburb of Newton. His father was an
ear-nose-throat physician and his mother an amateur pianist. Wein studied
piano with Marge Chaloff, mother of big-band saxophonist Serge Chaloff, a
couple of years Weins senior. Weins father urged him to take pre-medical
courses, but Weins interests were musical and his academic marks were
lack-luster. When Wein turned eighteen, he entered the Army where his piano
skills served him well and rescued him from hours of punitive duty. Wein
describes himself as somewhat of a klutz as far as military decorum goes.
As with his previous academic studies, his heart just wasnt in it.
Wein became acquainted, through his friend Nat Hentoff, with Joyce
Alexander, a junior at Simmons College. She was a charming, attractive
black woman who wrote a column on jazz for the college newspaper. After
several years of courtship they married. There were some misgivings on the
part of Weins family but Joyces quiet charm won them over. Joyce is
described as a true partner and supporter throughout the years. At one
point, Wein was trying to get Monk to take a certain course of action and
Monk replied that if Miss Joyce says OK, that he would do it. Wein
describes how Joyce would organize the housing and the meals for the
musicians at Newport, a complex operation since they would stay in private
There are several chapters devoted to the Newport Jazz Festival; his
relationship to Elaine and Louis Lorillard, the prime forces in bringing the
festival there; and the various difficulties with the Newport City Council.
There was also an unsuccessful fling at presenting an opera festival in
Newport. Because it lost large amounts of money, that effort was soon
abandoned. Through Weins friendship with Pete Seeger, folk festivals were
produced in Newport, Philadelphia and elsewhere.
Of personal interest to this writer is his description of his involvement
with the jazz festival in New Orleans. Prominent businessmen in New Orleans
with the idea of starting a Newport-style jazz festival invited him. This
was before desegregation. Wein told the businessmen that it wouldnt work
because the black jazz artists, used to traveling well the world over,
couldnt stay in their segregated hotels or eat their meals at the famous
New Orleans restaurants. Of course, after the passage of the civil rights
acts, he was re-invited to New Orleans and his long involvement with the New
Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival began. He describes the NOJ&H festival
as the largest and most successful jazz festival in the world. He credits
Quint Davis, his long-time New Orleans associate, with much of the success
of that festival.
One will have to read the book to get the details of Weins association with
Monk, Ellington and Miles. However, Wein comes across as a long-suffering
saint in putting up with some of the quirks and demands of Miles Davis.
Remember its Weins book and he can present himself in any light he
chooses. There are also some descriptions of differing points of view
between old friends Nat Hentoff and Wein. St. George paints himself the
long-term winner in these conflicts; the two old Jewish codgers from Boston
To Weins credit, he has produced a readable book which is a valuable
addition to the last half-century of jazz.
F. Norman Vickers is Volunteer Executive Director of the Jazz Society of
Pensacola. He is a retired physician and an amateur musician with a
lifelong interest in jazz.
Note: for photographgo to the Jazz Society of Pensacola website
www.jazzpensacola.com There is a photo of George Wein and Pensacola-Memphis
vocalist Holly Shelton its in high resolution for the press.
Recent photograph of George Wein in his New York office with
Pensacola-Memphis vocalist Holly Shelton. Holly, at almost six feet, towers
over Mr. Wein.
(Photo courtesy of Holly Shelton)
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