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Promoter of jazz and folk, and student of the art of black America

George Wein

LaNita Adams

You’ll find George Wein in Newport, R.I., the next couple of weekends. At 87, Boston-born Wein still produces the Newport Folk Festival, July 26-28, and the Newport Jazz Festival, Aug. 2-4. He founded both festivals, not to mention just about any other important jazz festival in the country. Along the way he wrote an autobiography, “Myself Among Others.”

BOOKS: Do you read about jazz?

WEIN: Yes. Everybody sends me their jazz books. There weren’t that many books when I started, but now the closet in the guest room is filled with books on jazz. I’m concerned about those because it’s my field. Most every book since my book refers to it. You like to see that because that means people are paying attention, that your life won’t be forgotten so quickly.

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BOOKS: What jazz books do you recommend?

WEIN: My friend the vibraphonist Gary Burton just wrote the most fascinating autobiography, “Learning to Listen.” I learned more about a man that I’ve known for 50 years than I ever had before.

BOOKS: What did you learn?

WEIN: Gary came out of the closet. I didn’t know that. I sent him an e-mail and said, “I’m reading about you and your cruising gay bars in Fort Lauderdale. I had no idea.”

BOOKS: Any other jazz autobiographies you like?

WEIN: Not really. Ellington wrote one, “Music Is My Mistress,” but he was covering. He was honest in what he said but not in what he didn’t say. Most jazz autobiographies are scripted by ghostwriters. Gary’s was honest.

BOOKS: What else have you read recently that you liked?

WEIN: I read “Take This Bread” by Sara Miles, a memoir about how she got involved with a church in San Francisco that was feeding the poor. She had been an atheist rebel but became part of this church and became deeply religious. I’m not religious, but I couldn’t put it down.

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BOOKS: What else do you read about?

WEIN: I’m an avid collector of African-American art and have a whole library of art books. I have read them avidly over the years to gain the knowledge I need to collect. Two early ones that were pivotal are “American Negro Art” by Cedric Dover published in 1960 and “Art: African American” by Samella Lewis.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

WEIN: I read The New York Times Book Review section every Sunday and keep finding books I want to buy, most of which I don’t. But in the past two months I bought two: “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” by Jon Meacham and “The Patriarch” by David Nasaw about the life of Joseph P. Kennedy. I bought the book on Kennedy because I wanted to know how a man who endorsed Hitler could have sons like Jackie and Bobby, men who grabbed the imagination of the American people.

BOOKS: Are you finding an answer?

WEIN: To a degree. When you’re not part of a time it’s difficult to understand how people were so contaminated by prejudice. So many of the people who meant so much to American civilization were really affected by that.

BOOKS: What would you like to read next?

WEIN: I just read the review of a new biography of Kafka by Reiner Stach. I was like any college student. I didn’t understand Kafka. I wrote an essay on Kafka that no one understood. Why should anyone understand what I wrote about Kafka when I didn’t understand him?

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BOOKS: Does aging change the experience of reading?

WEIN: First of all, you know more when you are older, and you understand more about what you’re reading. It’s just the nature of living that long. You understand better, philosophically and psychologically. But then your eyesight is not as good. You don’t read as fast as you used to. The lines jump around. So you don’t read as much though it’s still a very important part of life.

Amy Sutherland

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