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Jazz & Heritage Center Grand Opening

Jazz & Heritage Center Grand Opening

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Jazz Fest founder George Wein cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center. Photo by Charlie Steiner/WWOZ

 

For additional news coverage of the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center grand opening, see here. For a photo gallery from the grand opening press conference and tour of the building, see here. For video of George Wein's performance at the grand opening concert, see here. For complete video of the grand opening press conference, see here.

GEORGE AND JOYCE WEIN JAZZ & HERITAGE CENTER GRAND OPENING

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation purchased the historic building at 1225 N. Rampart Street – the former Tharp-Sontheimer-Laudumiey Funeral Home – in 2008. After extensive planning, the foundation determined to use the space as the first permanent home of its free education program, the Don “Moose” Jamison Heritage School of Music, which has operated on local university campuses since its inception in 1990. The building will house many of the Foundation’s other programs while also serving as a community arts center.

The Jazz & Heritage Center is named in honor of George Wein and his late wife Joyce, the pioneering festival producers who helped to launch the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (which is owned by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation) in 1970. Mr. Wein, 89, will attend the Dec. 11 press conference.

“George and Joyce Wein have done so much to benefit our community and our culture,” said Demetric Mercadel, president of the Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s board of directors. “It is only fitting that we recognize their many contributions by having their names grace this wonderful new facility. This is a true testament to their legacy.”

After nearly two years of renovations, the building features seven classrooms (including dedicated labs for piano and drums) and a 200-seat performance hall. All rooms are wired to a central control room for audio and video recording. The building also has interactive video projection for distance learning and special presentations.

"We expect this facility - which is located at the gateway to the Tremé neighborhood - to give a major boost to the cultural and economic development of not only Tremé, but to our entire city," said Don Marshall, executive director of the Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

The nearly $9 million project was funded with more than $3 million in contributions from various sources – including George and Joyce Wein, the Goldring Family Foundation, ArtPlace (a consortium of major national foundations), the Louis Prima and Gia Maione Prima Foundation, the Ella West Freeman Foundation, the Helis Foundation and the State of Louisiana. A large number of individuals, local and national foundations also contributed to the Foundation’s Capital Campaign. The remainder of the project’s costs were self-financed by the Foundation.

Musical equipment makers donated large numbers of instruments and other gear for the facility, including: Fender (bass guitars, bass amplifiers and guitar amplifiers), Shure (microphones), Yahama (drums), Casio (keyboards), Zildjian (cymbals) and D’Addario (strings).

About George and Joyce Wein and Jazz Fest
George Wein grew up in Boston and became a professional jazz pianist while still a teenager. In 1950, he opened a jazz club called Storyville, named after the New Orleans red light district.

In 1954, Wein was invited by Louis and Elaine Lorillard to Newport, Rhode Island. They funded the resulting Newport Jazz Festival, created by Wein, which became the first outdoor jazz festival in the United States and established the model for every major festival that followed.

Joyce Alexander was writing a jazz column for the Simmons College student newspaper when she met Wein in 1947. After graduating college at the age of 19, she started her career as a biochemist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and later worked in New York at Columbia Medical School.

Joyce and George married in 1959, after which she gave up her scientific career and became vice president of their company, Festival Productions, Inc., and a partner with George in all of their business ventures. She passed away in 2005 at age 76.

New Orleans business and tourism leaders first contacted George Wein about starting a festival here in 1962. It took eight years (including two years of attempts to establish a festival without the Weins), but in 1970 George and Joyce’s Festival Productions was named the producer of the “New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Louisiana Heritage Fair,” which debuted on April 22 of that year.

It was George Wein who insisted that the festival would be centered at Congo Square, would focus on New Orleans music and heritage, and would have as much emphasis on food and art as it would on music – values that still haven’t changed.

Wein was happy that it was a nonprofit enterprise; the festival would be owned by a new foundation with a mission to use the festival’s proceeds for year-round promotion and development of the city’s musical culture.

The same year, historian Richard Allen of Tulane University’s Hogan Jazz Archive introduced Wein to a young man named Quint Davis and his then-girlfriend Allison Miner. Both would become key organizers of the early festivals, with Quint going on to become the festival’s producer/director and head of Festival Productions’ New Orleans office. He remains the chief architect of Jazz Fest to this day.

Although the festival got off to a slow start, it moved from Congo Square to the Fair Grounds in 1972, gradually gaining steam until the mid-’70s, when it began to assert its potential as a cultural and financial cornerstone for its home city.

Today, Jazz Fest has a $300 million annual economic impact on New Orleans, and the Jazz & Heritage Foundation uses proceeds from the festival for year-round programs in education, economic development and cultural enrichment. The Foundation also owns radio station WWOZ and the Jazz & Heritage Archive.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc.