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The Festival Must Go On

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Producer George Wein was in France when the terrorist attacks hit the United States on Sept. 11. It took him a week to get back to his New York City Festival Productions office where, like everyone else, he was obliged to deal with both the emotional and the practical aftermath of living and working in Manhattan.

In addition, he was confronted with having to take the final steps in the mounting, amid all the uncertainty, of the new Verizon Music Festival scheduled for five nights, beginning today, in Los Angeles.

He never considered the possibility of cancellation.

“I never gave it a thought,” Wein said. “My feeling was that we couldn’t let these people force us to do that, and if we postponed, it would have been the equivalent of a cancellation. So we decided to go ahead, to make this as much of a celebration as possible, given the conditions. It’s a horrible thing that’s happened, but what are we going to do, let them shut us down? We can’t do that. We can’t.”

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It quickly became apparent, however, that the event would not occur as originally planned. Brazilian singer Daniela Mercury canceled her Monday appearance at the California Plaza, and Ruben Blades, a last-minute addition to the Salsa and Latin Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday night, was also unable to appear.

“We were lucky, though,” Wein adds, “that there weren’t any other cancellations, given the circumstances. But we also knew that we couldn’t put these events on as though nothing had happened.”

Accordingly, Wein, the Verizon Music Festival and the Nederlander Organization will be donating a minimum of $30,000 to the United Way’s Sept. 11 Fund and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ Emergency Response Fund. Toward that end, all profits from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra’s festival-opening performance tonight at the Wilshire Theatre--a minimum of $10,000--will be donated to the United Way, and a direct donation of $10,000 will be made from proceeds of Saturday night’s Hollywood Bowl event.

In addition, Monday’s show, featuring McCoy Tyner and the Lula Washington Dance Theatre with singer Jane Monheit, will no longer have set ticket prices. Fans are asked to make donations in any amount, starting at $1, with all proceeds going to the United Way.

“Whatever people give, we’ll give to the fund,” says Wein. “Hopefully, there’ll be some who will give $100 or more. But whatever it is, it goes to the fund.”

Other opportunities to contribute will also be made available at the Verizon Music Festival’s two free concerts, on Sunday at Pasadena’s Central Park (featuring Joshua Redman with David Clayton-Thomas and Blood, Sweat & Tears) and on Monday at the California Plaza (with Richard Bona, Flora Purim and Airto) in the form of collection centers set up and supervised by United Way.

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Understandably, Wein is concerned that this first installment of the Verizon Music Festival in Los Angeles receives a fair shot at success. He and his festival production company became associated with Verizon after the company decided to expand last year’s jazz-oriented programming into a more broadly based series of events in New York City, Tampa and Los Angeles.

“They put out an RFP, or a Request for a Proposal, to 11 companies,” he explains. “Seven were given appointments, and we were finally chosen, I think because, after all these decades, we pretty much understand what a festival is all about. We were also on the same track in the sense that Verizon didn’t want to be just be involved in the tour of a big-name artist, they wanted the Verizon Music Festival--something with a broader appeal than just a jazz festival. And, as you know, I’ve been saying for some time now that the only way you can do a successful festival is to have it embrace more than just jazz.”

Given a relatively short period of time (in the parlance of festival preparation, that is), it became necessary to arrange for a number of co-productions--with Nederlander and the House of Blues, among others. But the concert lineup, despite the few defections, is still first rate. And the club-associated events include some attractive, offbeat programming--especially at the Temple Bar and the World Stage--as well as a tie-in to Claudia Acuna’s run this week at the Jazz Bakery.

“We know we want to be back here next year,” Wein says, “bigger and better, with a set of programs that we’ll entirely produce ourselves. Because we still are determined to establish something with the Verizon Music Festival in L.A. If we have losses this year, well, we’ll eat the losses, because it’s all in a good cause. But we have to go on.”

The Verizon Music Festival, today-Tuesday. Tonight: the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis at the Wilshire Theatre. Saturday: the Hollywood Salsa and Latin Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Sunday: Joshua Redman, David Clayton-Thomas with Blood, Sweat & Tears, Me’Shell Ndegeocello and John Mayall in a free concert at Central Park in Old Pasadena. Monday: McCoy Tyner, the Lula Washington Dance Theatre with Jane Monheit and the Jeff Babko group at the Wilshire Theatre. Tuesday: Richard Bona, Flora Purim and Airto in a free concert at the California Plaza. Tickets for paid shows on sale at Ticketmaster or by phone at (213) 480-3232, (714) 740-200 or (805) 583-8700. Tickets for the Tyner event (at donated prices from $1) available from the Wilshire Theatre box office...

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