someone elses autobiography.
New York Times review of the new autobiography of jazz impresario
George Wein concluded, Anyone can write about the
music played at a jazz festival. Very few people can write authoritatively
about what it takes to run one. George Wein can do both, and in Myself
Among Others he does both very well.
While he didnt live it, Weins co-author, Nate Chinen C98 deserves
at least some credit for writing the life of the man who founded
the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals and befriended the likes of Duke
Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and Miles Davis. Chinen,
an editor at Digital City, an online city guide, and a freelance
writer for JazzTimes and other magazines (including the Gazette),
discussed the book and what it was like to inhabit Weins persona
and write in his voice in an e-mail interview.
was this project of interest to you?
most jazz fans, Im an avid amateur historian. As a working jazz critic,
I have also nurtured a fascination with the workings of the industry
and art of jazz. Writing George Weins autobiography was the perfect
fulfillment of all these impulses: He has been an integral part of
the music for over 50 years, and still commands one of its most influential
businesses. When I first met George early in 1999, I was a recent
arrival in Manhattan. What brought us together was a combination of
coincidence and persistence. We struck an immediate rapport, and quickly
developed a method of working together.
was the process?
I came aboard, the project consisted of roughly a thousand pages of
raw transcription from a previous interview. I used this material
as an initial reference, and spent hundreds of hours interrogating
George on tape. Over the next two years, I transcribed these conversations;
from them I culled the basic material for the book. At the same time,
I devoted massive amounts of time and energy toward traditional research.
Although George has an amazingly detailed memory on
certain matters, others required some prompting; thats where this
supplemental material came into play. It also provided a valuable
context for much of the information George was imparting.
did you learn about him or jazz that stands out? Was this an education
used to take pride in my knowledge of jazz history and lore; this
project was a healthy dose of humility. The career of George Wein
serves as a companion to the jazz encyclopedia, and there were many
names and anecdotes I discovered along the way.
I inhabited every period covered in the book, growing briefly obsessed
with such things as postwar New York City nightlife; Yellow Fever
epidemics in the late 19th-century South; civil rights in 1960s New
Orleans; and the vicissitudes of small-town politics in Newport, Rhode
Island. Finally, writing the book was in itself an education. Theres
a particular skill to co-authoring an autobiography, particularly
one of this magnitude. And one can only learn by doing.
have a with credit on this book. How is that different from being
the outset, George and I agreed that I would receive a co-writers
credit. This was an act of some largesse on Georges part, since he
could easily have enlisted a ghostwriter instead. Throughout the book-writing
process, he made it clear that he wanted the project to reflect well
on my career as well as his. I spent countless hours at his elbow,
absorbing his personal philosophies, mannerisms, and unique perspective.
It took some time, but eventually I was able to free myself from our
interview notes (which, when cobbled together, fell absolutely flat
on the page) and write convincingly in Georges voice. What makes
me happiest about the finished product is the fact that George recognizes
himself in those pages.