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Jackie McLean

John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Jazz festival fixture Joyce Wein dies

Jazz festival fixture Joyce Wein diesJazz festival fixture Joyce Wein dies

By M. Catherine Callahan/Daily News staff

Some area residents are among the music and art lovers around the world mourning the death of Joyce Alexander Wein, a biochemist, philanthropist and art collector best known as the wife and business partner of George Wein, the founder of the Newport Jazz Festival.

Joyce Wein died Monday at New York Presbyterian Hospital after battling cancer. She was 76.

"I will remember her as the lady behind the genius," local singer Saucy Sylvia said Tuesday.

Sylvia and her husband, Mike Mureddu, have known the Weins for decades and last saw them in October 2004 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, at the unveiling of a bronze sculpture celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival. Rep. Paul W. Crowley, D-Newport, led the effort to create the bronze piece, which depicts George Wein sitting at a piano and salutes the producer/musician as someone who "propels the genius in others and so finds his own."

Crowley said Joyce Wein's face lit up when she saw the piece, which was created by Boston sculptor Robert Shure.

"You could tell when you were around them that they were a couple very deeply in love," Crowley said of the Weins, who were married in 1959. "She was a beautiful woman. She struck me as a very articulate, very well-read person."

Jean Babcock of Portsmouth and Joyce Wein, then Joyce Alexander, were classmates at Simmons College in Boston. Babcock studied nursing and Wein studied chemistry, graduating in 1948 at the age of 19. She had a career as a biochemist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and later at Columbia Medical School in New York before she married Wein and became his partner in the production of the Newport Jazz Festival, the Newport Opera Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Hampton Jazz Festival and the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France.

Babcock said she last saw her college classmate at a mini-reunion held in Mystic, Conn., several years ago. Wein entertained her sisters from Simmons with stories about the early days of the music festivals she and her husband produced.

"She was a great gal and she was lots of fun," Babcock said.

In 1963, Joyce and George Wein joined Pete and Toshi Seeger to found the Newport Folk Festival.

"She was so loved in Newport ... everybody loved her in Newport," George Wein said about his wife during a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. "When we had the folk festivals, she organized the feeding, the meals, for over 100 people. She organized the sleeping, booked the hotels and all the other places everybody used to stay.

"She was involved with everything we did up there," Wein continued. "She made friends in the community, where we needed friends."

Emily Oxx and her husband, retired Newport police officer Charlie Oxx, were among those Joyce Wein befriended in Newport. The Weins rented the cottage located behind the Oxxs' home on Eustis Avenue in the early days of the festivals; in later years, performers often stayed there.

Joyce Wein had little time to spare, Emily Oxx recalled, but occasionally the two women chitchatted over cups of coffee in Oxx's kitchen.

"She was out all the time; we never had a chance to establish a close relationship," Emily Oxx said. "But it was pleasant, a very nice friendship. I liked her tremendously. She just had a lovely, charming way."

Gordon Sweeney and Leon S. Jackson have been backstage fixtures at the jazz and folk festivals for decades. Both said they were fond of Joyce Wein and saddened by news of her death.

"Back in the old days, after the shows were over, she hosted a late-night supper for the staff and the crew," Sweeney said. "She was a very good hostess."

Jackson said Wein was a compassionate woman who afforded many "little kindnesses" to those associated with the festivals. She was concerned about people's comfort and made sure there was always plenty of fresh water and good food for the performers and the staff to enjoy throughout the day, he said.

He recalled the year she asked him to pick up baskets of sweet, local corn and to cook it backstage so that the musicians and crew could help themselves throughout the day.

"She was a very warm and considerate person," Jackson said. "She touched a lot of hearts."

Funeral services will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home in New York City.


  1. Greetings from Columbus, Ohio, where we just celebrated winter with a thirty-four hour blizzard. After reading a newsletter from jazz at Lincoln Center that dedicates an upcoming program to the memory of Joyce Wein, I googled her name and learned for the first time of her passing two and a half years ago.
    I probably met Joyce on two occasions and whenever I saw George at a convention, I would send my best wishes to her. Such a beauty, she was; what a blessed man was he to be her life-long companion.
    I should only be blessed to be their boy. Of course, I guess we are all their kids, dancing in the sun in New Orleans at Fest Time, hanging with musicians in cafes in New York, Nice, the Northsea or Havana. They created the template for jazz life and citizenship of the world. No politics, let the love force of music speak to all people, all ages,all cultures.
    Our loved ones are always here as long as we continue to talk about them.

    Arnett Howard

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