The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that owns the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, announced today that the foundation’s new education and community center will be named in honor of George and Joyce Wein.
For video of news coverage from the announcement (May 3, 2013), see here.
The George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center is located at 1225 N. Rampart Street - adjacent to the Jazz & Heritage Foundation offices - and was purchased by the foundation in 2008. After extensive planning, the foundation decided to use the space as the first permanent home of its Don “Moose” Jamison Heritage School of Music, a free program that has operated on local university campuses since 1990. It will also serve as a community center.
Construction is set to begin in a few weeks to convert the historic structure into a state-of-the-art education facility with seven classrooms (including dedicated labs for drums and piano) and the latest in audio and video recording technology. The rear portion of the building will redesigned as a 200-seat auditorium.
“George and Joyce Wein have done so much to benefit our community and our culture,” said Anthony J. Ruda, president of the Festival and Foundation 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.”
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 - the first outdoor jazz festival in the United States, which 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 them) 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 preservation 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, as it has for many years, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell attracts some 400,000 visitors each year. It has an economic impact on the New Orleans region in excess of $300 million annually – second only to Mardi Gras in its impact and as a cultural calling card for New Orleans.
Similarly, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation has grown to become a pillar of the arts and cultural community, with a wide range of programs in education, economic development and cultural enrichment. In addition to the Heritage School, these include Community Partnership Grants, the Jazz Journey concert series, four free festivals, the Sync Up conference, the Tom Dent Congo Square Lecture Series, the Class Got Brass competition, the Jazz & Heritage Gala and many others. The foundation also maintains the Jazz & Heritage Archive and is the owner of radio station WWOZ. For more details on the Foundation's activities, please see http://www.jazzandheritage.org.
Construction of the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center is expected to be completed in late 2014.