Within weeks he was sending drummer Sidney Catlett to coax an appearance from Armstrong and his band, in town for a concert at Symphony Hall. And they appeared one at a time — Earl "Fatha" Hines on piano, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Arvell Shaw on bass, Jack Teagarden on trombone, and Cozy Cole on drums.
Then, Armstrong himself. He hadn't brought his horn, but no trouble. Pops sang "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" and Storyville was on the map. Over the next decade, it would rank among the top jazz clubs in the country — drawing Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Dave Brubeck, Billie Holiday.
But a Storyville record label faded amid financial trouble after a couple of years. And Wein's early attempts at a jazz tour met with modest results. "In those days, we were playing just little halls," said Brubeck, recalling a New England tour. "It wasn't anything grand."
But Wein was learning how to put on a show, Brubeck said. He was setting up chairs in small auditoriums, dreaming of something bigger. And in 1953, Newport socialite Elaine Lorillard showed up at Storyville with a plan to shake up her city's staid social scene: a jazz festival.
Soon, Wein was visiting what would be the site of the first festival: the Newport Casino, grassy redoubt of the wealthy. "It was not a particularly jazzy place," Wein wrote.
And the setting was not the only concern. There was no precedent for the sort of event Wein was planning. He had to create a regional publicity machine. Commission a stage. Outdoor sound and lighting, he later wrote, were "a total mystery" at the time.
But he pulled it together. And in the summer of 1954, jazz — still a faintly dis-reputable music — landed in the play-ground of white, wealthy America. "George scored a coup," said Dan Morgen-stern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
The festival quickly made its mark.
In 1955, Miles Davis's solo on "Round Midnight" announced a comeback for a musician laid low by heroin. A year later, the Duke Ellington Orchestra had a revival of its own after saxophonist Paul Gonsalves's extended saxophone solo on "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" caused a stir.
And in 1958, commercial and fashion photographer Bert Stern filmed the documentary Jazz On a Summer's Day, an homage that signaled the full arrival of a once-dark art.
The next year, Wein launched the Folk Festival. And in July of 1965, Bob Dylan went electric in what would become a signature moment in music history — shaking purists and sending a nervous producer scrambling to arrange an acoustic encore.
"I said, 'You'll have a riot, Bobby,' " Wein recalled.
Dylan ambled back on stage and played "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Mr. Tambourine Man."
But the festival, which once sent a folklorist scouring the back country for grassroots acts, would never be the same.
Dylan goes electric on July 25, 1965 (with Mike Bloomfield, Jerome Arnold, and Al Kooper)
'POISONED AND STAMPED OUT'
It was not just an ascendant rock 'n' roll that threatened Wein's enterprise.