The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival continues its 44th year of music today at the Fair Grounds. This morning a new music education center was dedicated to one of the festival’s founders, George Wein, and his wife Joyce.
In the 1960s, New Orleans musicians and music lovers would often ask George Wein, jazz pianist and founder of the successful Newport Jazz Festival, why he didn't produce a big jazz event in New Orleans. After all, it was the birthplace of the music. Wein said today that it was important for the timing, and the politics, to be right before he put on a festival here.
"This isn’t just another town where I came to put on a jazz festival. I’d put on many festivals," he said. "When I came to this town, I was married to Joyce, and Joyce was an African-American lady. And if I brought her in 1962 they would have put us in jail. And hey that’s history. But in 1970 we really got it done, with New Orleans Jazz Festival and Louisiana Heritage Fair."
That event has become the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The press conference included a cast of festival founders and long-standing board members. Many referenced how the early days of the festival were groundbreaking for race relations in the city.
Quint Davis, CEO of Festival Productions, says Jazz Fest has added billions of dollars to the local economy in its 44 years.
Today marked the naming of the Jazz & Heritage Center in honor of George and Joyce Wein. Joyce Wein, a biochemist, died in 2005. Davis noted the couple’s commitment to education, and plans to offer free music education at the center.
"That comes not from a love of this festival," he said. "That comes from the love of New Orleans, and a dedication to educating young people, educating them in jazz, and particularly educating young people who don’t have the advantages of other young people."
The center’s location is next to the Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s offices, at the edge of the Tremé neighborhood. Wein said he thought many times about buying a house in New Orleans, or finding some way to live here part-time. Now, he said, he has a permanent address — on Rampart Street.