Norman Granz (August 6, 1918 – November 22, 2001) was an American jazz music impresario.
Granz was a fundamental figure in American jazz, especially from about 1947 to 1960. He was the founder of five record labels:
Life and career
Born in Los Angeles, the son of Jewish immigrants from Tiraspol, he first emerged into the public view when he organised desegregated jam sessions at the Trouville Club in Los Angeles, which he later expanded when he staged a memorable concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles on Sunday, July 2, 1944, under the heading of "Jazz at the Philharmonic".
The title of the concert, "A Jazz Concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium", had been shortened by the printer of the advertising supplements to "Jazz at the Philharmonic". Only one copy of the very first concert program is known to exist. Norman Granz had organised the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert with about $300 of borrowed money.
Later known as JATP, the ever-changing group recorded and toured extensively, with Granz producing some of the first live jam session recordings to be distributed to a wide market.
After several JATP concerts in Los Angeles in 1944 and 1945, Granz began producing JATP concert tours, from late fall of 1945 to 1957 in USA and Canada, and from 1952 in Europe. They featured swing and bop musicians and were among the first high-profile performances to feature racially integrated bands. Granz actually cancelled some bookings rather than have the musicians perform for segregated audiences. He recorded many of the JATP concerts, and from 1945 to 1947 sold/leased the recordings to Asch/Disc/Stinson Records (record producer Moses Asch's labels).
In 1948 Granz signed an agreement with
Many of the names that made history in jazz signed with one of Norman Granz's labels, including
Granz saw to it that his musicians were well paid. In the segregated society of the 1940s, he insisted on equal pay and accommodation for white and black musicians. He refused to take his hugely popular concerts to places which were segregated, even if he had to cancel concerts, thereby sacrificing considerable sums of money.
In 1944, Granz and Gjon Mili produced the jazz film Jammin' the Blues, which starred Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Barney Kessel, Harry Edison, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Marlowe Morris, and Marie Bryant, and was nominated for an Academy Award.
It was in 1956 that the popular singer Ella Fitzgerald finally joined Norman Granz's label. Granz had been her manager for some time, and unified his activities under the common label of Verve Records. Granz became Fitzgerald's manager, and remained so until the end of her career. Fitzgerald's memorable series of eight Songbooks, together with the duet series (notably Armstrong-Peterson, Fitzgerald-Basie, Fitzgerald-Pass and Getz-Peterson) achieved wide popularity and brought acclaim to the label and to the artists. Granz was also the manager of Oscar Peterson, another lifelong friend. In 1959, Norman Granz moved to Switzerland. In December 1960, Verve Records was sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Granz founded his last label,
Norman Granz opposed racism and fought many battles for his artists, many of whom were black. In 1955, in Houston, Texas, he removed signs that would have designated "White" and "Negro" seating areas in the auditorium where two concerts were to be performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. Between the two shows Ella and Dizzy were found playing cards in the dressing room and arrested by local police. After some negotiations, the artists were allowed to perform the second show and later were formally released. Granz nevertheless insisted on fighting the charges, which cost him a $2,000 fine.
Oscar Peterson recounted how Granz once insisted that white cabdrivers take his black artists as customers while a policeman pointed a loaded pistol at his stomach. 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, such dressing rooms.
A detailed look at Granz, his career, and his legacy can be found in Tad Hershorn's book Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice (2011).