Kansas City, Mo. — A famed promoter who produces major jazz and general music events in more than a dozen cities around the world is considering launching a music event in Kansas City, possibly as early as next spring.
George Wein, 80, whose projects include launching the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, has been talking about the event to City Manager Wayne Cauthen for more than a year. If details can be worked out, he said the first Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival could be launched next spring.
Wein's organization, Festival Productions, produces major jazz and general music events in more than a dozen cities - from Los Angeles to New York, Paris to Warsaw. He said he's interested in starting a Kansas City festival because of Jo Jones, Count Basie's longtime drummer.
In the 1950s, Wein, a piano player, ran a jazz club in Boston called Storyville.
"Jo Jones used to play drums with me at my club," Wein said, "and every night that I hung out with him he used to talk about Kansas City. Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come."
Later Wein promoted such people as Jay McShann, Charlie Parker, Mary Lou Williams and the Basie band, all of whom spread the sound of Kansas City jazz.
Wein (pronounced WEEN), with AEG Live, the concert-promotion arm of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, envisions a multistage, multilocation outdoor production that will appeal to a variety of music fans.
"It would feature country music, hip-hop, gospel, funk, some rock, folk and, of course, emphasis on the jazz heritage of Kansas City," Wein said from his New York office. "The festival would become an annual event and, hopefully, like New Orleans, draw tens of thousands of people who would like to make a trip to spend a weekend in Kansas City."
Cauthen said he's excited about the possibility, although the festival faces several hurdles.
"We're in discussion," Cauthen said. "We're looking at the possibility. George has been in town. People have met with him. He's talking to corporate sponsors."
Kansas City has a reputation for jazz and food, and its size means there's less competition for attention than in places like New York and Los Angeles, Wein said.
"It's big enough," he said, "and it's also small enough. You don't get lost in New Orleans. You don't get lost in a place like Kansas City."
Last spring's festival in flood-ravaged New Orleans, with acts such as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan spanning two weekends of concerts, generated $250 million in economic benefits, according to reports.
Kansas City has had a spotty record when it comes to jazz and music festivals. But Wein's resources and track record, combined with the growing influence of AEG Live, is seen as a positive development.
"It gives jazz some legs to stand on," said Roger Naber, a longtime Kansas City club owner and co-producer of the former Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival.
Cauthen said major hurdles to the festival include finding sponsors and protecting homegrown events, such as the Rhythm & Ribs Festival and the Kansas City Symphony's Memorial Day concert at Union Station.