Norman Granz

From Academic Kids

Norman Granz (Los Angeles, USA, August 6, 1918 - Geneva, Switzerland, November 22, 2001), was an American jazz music impresario and producer.

Born in Los Angeles, of a Ukrainian-Jewish ancestry, Granz is a fundamental figure in American jazz music, especially of the 1950s and the 1960s. While not a musician, he was one of the most important contributors to modern music.

He First emerged into the public view with a memorable concert in Los Angeles' Philharmonic Auditorium under the heading of "Jazz at the Philharmonic" (JATP), from which he produced perhaps the first live jam-session recording to be distributed to a wide market; until then this kind of music was generally considered to be either an avant-garde style or, less charitably, a cacophony. The group which performed at that concert, featuring Ray Brown, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker ("The Bird"), Sonny Criss, Nat King Cole (as a piano player, not as a singer), Hank Jones, Shelley Mann, Fats Navarro, Flip Phillips and Tommy Turk, then had two yearly tours from 1946 to 1949; annual JATP tours continued until 1957, and were briefly revived in 1967. As is common in the genre, many legends now accompany the person: about this production, it is said that the title of the concert had been shortened by the printer of the advertising supplements, and that Granz had organised it with about $200 of borrowed money.

Granz signed an agreement with Mercury Records for the promotion and the distribution of the JATP and other records. This agreement expired in 1953, and Granz created his first independent label (Clef Records) to follow the JATP project. He also created Norgran Records and Down Home Records, meant to be reserved for traditional jazz works.

Most of the names that made history in jazz signed with one of his labels, including Cannonball Adderley, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Louie Bellson, Benny Carter, Buck Clayton, Buddy DeFranco, Tal Farlow, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, Illinois Jacquet, Barney Kessel, Gene Krupa, Howard McGhee, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker, Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, Flip Phillips, Bud Powell, Sonny Stitt, Ben Webster and Lester Young.

It was in 1956 that Ella Fitzgerald finally joined Granz's "community", after her long-term contract with Decca Records expired, and Granz unified his activities under the common label of Verve Records. The memorable series of "songbooks" (most important of which are those dedicated to George Gershwin and Cole Porter), together with the duet series (notably Armstrong-Peterson, Fitzgerald-Basie, Fitzgerald-Pass and Getz-Peterson) achieved a wide popularity and brought acclaim to the label and to the artists.

In 1960 Verve Records was sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Granz retired to Switzerland, where he founded his last label (Pablo Records) in 1973.

He died of cancer in 2001.

Norman Granz is generally remembered also for his notable anti-racist position and for the battles he consequently fought for his artists (many of whom were black, perhaps the majority), in times and places where skin color was the cause of open discrimination. In 1955, in Houston, Texas, he personally removed the labels "White" and "Negro" that would have separated the audience in the auditorium where two concerts were to be performed by (among others) Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie; between the two shows they were found playing cards in the dressing room and arrested by local police, but after some nervous negotiations allowed to perform the second show, and only formally released after that. Oscar Peterson recounted how Granz once continued to insist that white cabdrivers take his black artists as customers even while a policeman was pointing a loaded pistol at his stomach from close range (Granz won). Granz also was among the first to pay white and black artists the same salary and to give them equal treatment even in minor details, like dressing rooms.

Beloved by his artists (in part because he paid more than average), he had three main goals, as he repeatedly and frankly declared: to fight against racism, to give listeners a good product, and to earn money from good music.

The most famous of his labels, Verve, is today a synonym of high-quality recordings and musical content or, shortly, for Norman Granz.

External link

See also: List of record producers


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