Newport Jazz Fest founder sells company

Wein cites funding difficulties

Impresario George Wein, who brought jazz out of smoke-filled nightclubs to mass audiences by founding the much-imitated Newport Jazz Festival more than 50 years ago, says he has sold his production company, which puts on music festivals from New York to Tokyo and Paris.

“I’m concerned with preserving my legacy and at my age I’m still working as hard as ever, but it was more difficult to find the funding necessary to guarantee the future of everything we’re doing,” Wein, 81, said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Wein said he had sold his company, Festival Productions Inc., to The Festival Network LLC, a new New York-based entertainment production company. The price was “in the millions,” he said.

Wein said he became concerned about the future of his company and its festivals as he grew older. Joyce Wein, his wife of 46 years, died in 2005.

He said he had been approached several times during the past decade about selling his company and nearly sold it in 1998 to Black Entertainment Television.

The new owners assure him that the sale won’t cause any major changes in the near future in the sponsorship or programming of the 13 to 15 major festivals his company produces annually, he said, including the JVC Jazz Festival in New York and the Newport jazz and folk festivals.

The deal does not cover the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which Wein also founded and runs through a separate company.

“I think it is the beginning of a new chapter; I don’t feel it is the end of anything,” said Wein, who will stay on as chairman of the new company’s Festival Productions division.

Chris Shields, the 36-year-old CEO of The Festival Network, said that he approached Wein about a sale and merger last spring and that the deal was finalized this month.

The Festival Network already has an agreement to produce music events at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and at Games through 2012.

The Festival Network is looking to use Newport as a model to create other “destination festivals in locations around the world that have brands because of their beauty and history,” such as Jackson Hole, Wyo., or Nantucket, Mass.

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