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2012 JAZZ JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION AWARDS; NORMAN GRANZ BIO

LOTS TO CHEER ABOUT IN 2012, SOME OLD SOME NEW 

in a standout –and sold out Blue Note Club in N.Y.C.– presentation coordinated & choreographed by Prez Howard Mandel and JoAnn Kawell, there were many of the usual musicians who were winners, and a happily growing smattering of newbies.

not undeservedly, and certainly not a bad thing, more new names are coming up behind the biggies such as perennial multiple wnners Sonny Rollins and Joe Lovano.

multinational names like Ambrose Akinmurie, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Anat Cohen and Vijay Iyer are indeed already poised to be jazz’s next veterans having repeated in the recent past.  then there’s Regina Carter and remember when Kurt Elling and Maria Schneider were “who?”  now their wins are, “of course.”

however, my real interest always lies in the Journalism Awards.  these are the cats who get the words out, who, as pianist Mike Longo likes to say, “put asses in the seats,” inspiring interest in the art and the people who make it.  in fact, i was an early associate  of Elling and Schneider as part of their publicity team.

TAD HERSHORN’S “NORMAN GRANZ: THE MAN WHO USED JAZZ FOR JUSTICE”

the standout for me among the 2012 winners was Tad Hershorn.  Hershorn has written the definitive biography of one of the unsung heroes of our music, “Norman Granz. The Man Who Used Jazz For Justice” (University of California Press).  an alternate title might have been “The Man Who Saved American Music.”

a few of Granz’s highlights: integrator of concerts, record label owner (at least four of ‘em), presenter of artists who have been overlooked, touring companies which would not have toured in places where they dared not go such as the South.  making the age old jam session an artistic re-creation and then putting them on best-selling LPs, in multiple volumes.  all of this without ever having played an instrument, at least not seriously.

simplifying, it all started with his best friend, Nat “King” Cole in a series of concerts which became known worldwide as Jazz At The Philharmonic.  his record companies were Clef, Norgran, Verve and finally Pablo, named for another friend, Pablo Picasso, who gave the label its logo, a drawing of a dog.

J.A.T.P. was an integrated series oif concerts which Granz had a hard time selling.  he paid for everything: the halls, the transportation, the sound, the works.  on occasion he even had to pay the musicians when promoters would not integrate the audience, or who would not let the musicians enter through the front door, or who would not back him in getting food and/or lodging.for them.  he ceremoniously walked away from those concert venues.

his first attempt at recording them was largely the live concerts, initially on 78 rpm actual albums, then on multiple 10″ LPs, or 45 rpm EPs.  even the artwork was distinctive, stark stick-type abstract drawings by an unknown artist David Stone Martin.

eventually he brought the same performers into the studio for more organized sessions with the same format, jams, often in one-take.  the LP seemed to have been invented for Norman Granz allowing his musicians to stretch.

Granz went on to manage at least two of the greatest people in the history of any music: Ella Fitzgerald, whose contract he bought from Decca, and introduced Canadian Oscar Peterspn at a J.A.T.P. concert when O.P. wasn’t even supposed to be on a stage in the U.S.  and both without a written contract,  why bother when a handshake between friends would do?  for Ella he devised the oft-imitated “songbooks,” complete LPs dedicated to one composer.  another first.

there were others as well.  Granz was of the opinion, not unlike John Hammond, who once was heard to say when Count Basie, Duke Ellington and others were dropped by their recording companies, “what are these artists doing without a record label?”  so Granz picked up that gauntlet and recorded them.

when Granz sold Verve to MGM he retained his “friends” Ella and Oscar as well as his studio recordings of Art Tatum.  the latter became Pablo multi-LP-boxed sets “The Group Masterpieces” and “The Solo Masterpieces.”

as for Fitzgerald and Peterson, the reissues are still being re-packaged by the Concord Family of labels, where Pablo now resides.

Hershorn tells Granz’s story facilely without getting pedantic, which can be a problem in a subject as vast as this.  Granz was not an easy subject to deal with.  on the few occasions when we spoke via telephone Granz was always polite and respectful, but curt and opinionated.  when i needed information and not just schmooze i had smoother contact with his assistant Mary Jane Outwater.

if there will ever be another bio of Norman Granz –why would we need another one?– i doubt if it will be as thorough as this one, and such an easy read, too.

another Journalists Award of interest went to Marc Meyers’ blog www.jazzwax.com.  jazzwax is always informative first-hand accounts from the mouths of.   a well-deserved choice.

one more thing.: isn’t it about time JazzTimes relinquished its perennial hold on the Jazz Publication of the Year Award and sponsored it instead?  might be a win-win-win for them, other publications and JJA.

Prez Howard take note.

- © arnold jay smith

June 2012

LINKS OF INTEREST

www.jjajazzawards.org

www.jazzhouse.org

www.jazzwax.com

June 2012


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