By George Wein
It's elusive to try and define "time" because the last 60 years of my life and being involved with the Newport Jazz Festival, have gone by like the flick of an eyelash. It seems like only yesterday when Charlie Bourgeois and I came to Newport and drove down Bellevue Avenue, taking in the mystique, history and elegance of the English manor houses and the French chateaux that lined both sides of the road, until we reached Quatrel, the home of Louis & Elaine Lorillard, who had invited us to their beloved city. That was the beginning of the odyssey that continues to this day.
It was 60 years ago that we produced the first outdoor jazz festival, which set the pattern for thousands of jazz and pop music festivals, which are now a major part of the world's culture. Memories of that first festival are stuck firmly in my mind...
I remember Lee Konitz talking a reticent Lenny Tristano into making one of his few personal appearances and my stupidity in telling Dizzy Gillespie - who had the comic timing of Chaplin - not to try to be funny in his performance. Gene Krupa, who was one of the stars of the evening, got upset when we had a jam session and didn't ask him to play drums. His words were "I play drums, too." Since we couldn't afford Stan Kenton with his band, we asked him to come and emcee, reading an eloquent script written by Nat Hentoff.
Then, of course, there was the memorable reunion of Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson and of course Lester "Prez" Young, whose words before he went onstage were "I guess I'll have to go up and help the Lady out." John Lewis, founder of the Modern Jazz Quartet, accompanied Ella Fitzgerald, while Horace Silver filled in for him in the MJQ's set. What a festival.
But the real thrill is not in the memories, it's the fact that 60 years later, I still have the privilege of producing this wonderful festival. I'm just as proud of what will happen at Fort Adams and the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino on August 1-3 as I was with what occurred during that historic weekend in 1954.