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Norman Granz

Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice

Tad Hershorn
Foreword by Oscar Peterson
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    Norman Granz
    Book Description:

    “Any book on my life would start with my basic philosophy of fighting racial prejudice. I loved jazz, and jazz was my way of doing that,” Norman Granz told Tad Hershorn during the final interviews given for this book. Granz, who died in 2001, was iconoclastic, independent, immensely influential, often thoroughly unpleasant—and one of jazz’s true giants. Granz played an essential part in bringing jazz to audiences around the world, defying racial and social prejudice as he did so, and demanding that African-American performers be treated equally everywhere they toured. In this definitive biography, Hershorn recounts Granz’s story: creator of the legendary jam session concerts known as Jazz at the Philharmonic; founder of the Verve record label; pioneer of live recordings and worldwide jazz concert tours; manager and recording producer for numerous stars, including Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94977-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Oscar Peterson

    I have a boundless love for and enduring remembrance of Norman Granz. I grieve to this day because of his absence from all of us, and most importantly (and selfishly) from me.

    Norman Granz represents a truly unbridled and honest love for jazz. The world benefited tremendously from his recordings and concerts. But Norman should be noted not only for his great contribution to the jazz world musically but also for his unbiased treatment of the players, regardless of their racial background. He sanctioned his musical belief in jazz by hiring the people whose playing he admired, regardless of their...

  5. Prologue: “I Made Things Work”
    (pp. 1-14)

    The chartered bus carrying impresario Norman Granz and his Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe pulled into the parking lot of the Regent Restaurant in Jackson, Michigan, about sixty-five miles west of Detroit, with a couple of hours to spare before their appearance at the Jackson County Auditorium on Monday, October 6, 1947. Granz and JATP, as the national concert tours were already known by legions of fans, had been building a reputation for fiery jam sessions of all-star musicians in integrated settings since the concerts had begun in his hometown of Los Angeles in July 1944. The bus that night...

  6. 1 “All I Wanted Was My Freedom”
    (pp. 15-24)

    “I guessed from the odd spelling of my name, with a ‘z’ on the end, that at Ellis Island, when they passed through immigration, maybe the name was Granzinski, or something like that, [and] that my father had, I suppose, at some point chopped off the ‘inski,’ and left it with ‘Granz,’ ” Norman Granz said, speculating on a common assimilation strategy his father might have employed when transitioning to a new life. He admitted that he had given little thought to his origins and cared about as much.¹ Granz, however, was the family name that Morris Granz, then a...

  7. 2 “A Marvelous Crucible”
    (pp. 25-38)

    Norman Granz arrived on the jazz scene in Los Angeles just as the city was becoming a “giant boomtown” in the lead-up to World War II. During the war, as the city became embroiled in racial and ethnic conflict, Granz would make racial justice his signal cause. His first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in July 1944 was a fund-raiser to overturn the verdicts in the notorious Sleepy Lagoon murder case. The repercussions of that trial, which began in 1942 when twenty-two defendants from a Hispanic gang were charged with the death of a rival gang member, partly contributed to...

  8. 3 Cole Train
    (pp. 39-52)

    His adventure in New York coming to an end, Norman Granz left for Los Angeles shortly after Easter 1942, riding the bus to the end of the line of his savings and hitchhiking the rest of the way back home. En route he was buoyed by the memory of a recent experience that had touched him for the kindness shown him during a time he was barely scraping by. Granz had befriended a woman who, along with her husband, ran an eatery opposite the stage door to the Apollo Theater, on 126th Street. Lulubelle Padron could see the deliberateness, born...

  9. 4 “The Opener”
    (pp. 53-74)

    The story of Jazz at the Philharmonic, the longest-running and most influential series of jazz concerts in the music’s history, beginning in 1944, can be traced in part to the decisive role that the Second World War played as a social and cultural icebreaker. High-paying jobs in the defense industries stimulated growth in the affected cities and changed the expectations of the new residents. World War II and its hardships on the home front provided another set of opportunities for Norman Granz’s ideas about the jazz concert to take off. Tight rationing of gasoline and rubber restricted normal travel and...

  10. 5 Let Freedom Swing
    (pp. 75-98)

    In 1945 and 1946 Jazz at the Philharmonic rose to greater prominence as suddenly as it had when it changed venue from the Trouville to the Philharmonic Auditorium. Norman Granz maintained his pace of monthly bookings at the local symphony hall but soon turned his attention to developing regional and then national concert tours, once and shortly thereafter twice a year. “I proved whatcouldbe done, so I took it on tour in ’45,” Granz said of early JATP road tests.¹ After that, he used the West Coast only as the jump-off point for a monthlong national tour that...

  11. 6 Norman Granz versus . . .
    (pp. 99-114)

    “Victory abroad,” the first plank of African Americans’ “Double-V” campaign, was fulfilled with the Japanese surrender on August 14, 1945, ending a war in which an estimated one million African American men and women had served. The bill for the second half of the charge—“victory over racism at home”—came due immediately thereafter. The agenda of the civil rights movement in the 1940s reflected vigorous thinking and activity that eventually led to the undoing of many of the more egregious manifestations of segregation in the law, politics, education, voting and housing rights, public accommodations, and to a lesser degree...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. 7 Mambo Jambo
    (pp. 115-132)

    By the end of 1947, the entertainment industry was celebrating the drawing power of jazz concerts, a far cry from the attitude it had displayed when dismissing JATP concerts as a “gag” a couple of years earlier. In the parlance of the time,Varietyannounced in a banner headline in October that such events were “Wham Coin for Jazz ‘Longhairs.’ ” That, translated into more conventional journalistic language, is “The jazz concert field is rapidly becoming one of the most profitable outlets in live entertainment” and “The intangible element of prestige attaches itself to playing in major halls. Billing...

  14. 8 Enter Ella and Oscar
    (pp. 133-144)

    Given the influence Norman Granz was accumulating, his statements at the time about jazz and its marketing offer clues to his success. Granz elaborated on the seat-of-the-pants marketing he employed to keep JATP fans coming back for more year after year. “I consistently check the song popularity polls and radio disc jockey surveys to get new ideas,” Granz said in a March 1949 interview. “We have found this system helpful in forming well-balanced programs, from bebop to blues and boogie woogie that will appeal to teenagers as well as jazz savants. Too many ‘progressive orchestras’ make the mistake of playing...

  15. 9 The Continental
    (pp. 145-165)

    Norman Granz’s fortunes zoomed ahead in the three years beginning in 1950 when Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson became JATP’s mainstays. Jazz at the Philharmonic had come a long way from its beginnings as a dynamic experiment in Los Angeles that went on to tour the West Coast. After six years, JATP had become an eagerly anticipated annual highlight for tens of thousands of jazz fans across the country, and by 1952 it had refashioned the music industry to make concerts the dominant vehicle for reaching jazz audiences.

    Much later, John McDonough, looking back at Granz’s business practices during this...

  16. 10 “I Feel Most at Home in the Studio”
    (pp. 166-185)

    A photograph of Frank Sinatra in March 1949 showed the singer admiring what he could not then have known would be the salvation of his career after his fabled postwar professional drought. Sinatra held a copy of his Columbia 78 rpm album,The Voice of Frank Sinatra. Edward Wallerstein, president of Columbia, and Mannie Sachs, one of the record executives who had dismissed Norman Granz’s pitch on behalf of concert records four years before, likewise beamed as they displayed the company’s revolutionary 33 1/3 rpm long-playing album of the same title.¹ Though Sinatra’s comeback had begun with his 1953 Academy...

  17. 11 Starry Nights
    (pp. 186-211)

    Norman Granz had been news for a long time in the music press, but by the early 1950s, as he entered his second decade in the music business, he attained visibility and acclaim in the nontrade press as well. To a degree, this measured his increasing influence in the entertainment industry as a leading independent record producer and concert impresario, not only in the United States but in Europe and the Far East. It also showed the respectability—deserved or not—that can attach itself to those enjoying financial success. Many outside observers saw Granz primarily as a business story...

  18. 12 “That Tall Old Man Standing Next to Ella Fitzgerald”
    (pp. 212-229)

    The Japanese tour of 1953 was still in progress when Granz acquired the Hope Diamond of his career. On the flight between Tokyo and Osaka, he talked with Ella Fitzgerald about taking over her personal management when her contract with Moe Gale at Associated Booking Corporation would expire that December. Gale, one of the owners of the Savoy Ballroom, had been involved with Fitzgerald since the beginning of her career as part of his managing the Chick Webb Orchestra from late 1929. Gale had also delivered the band to Decca Records as one of the new label’s earliest attractions and...

  19. 13 The Jazz Hurricane
    (pp. 230-252)

    “The chief of our Norman Granz department collapsed in front of the public library just before press time,”Metronomereported in June 1954 in a tongue-in-cheek but accurate allusion to the futility of keeping up with the peripatetic impresario. “Fortunately, however, the guy has a telephone, and a daily call will keep you posted on what part of the world Norman was in as of that hour.” In short succession, the magazine learned Granz was in London “battering” the Musicians Union, flying Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Buddy DeFranco, and Oscar Peterson into New York “from the four corners of the...

  20. 14 “The Lost Generation”
    (pp. 253-265)

    Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald turned in their usual polished sets on Saturday, July 17, 1954.¹ But on that particular night, they made history not for Norman Granz but for George Wein, who broke new ground by presenting the first U.S. jazz festival. It was held outdoors on the grass tennis court of the Newport Casino in Rhode Island. Jazz and high society had become somewhat surprising bedfellows.

    The Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, for seventy-five years the home of the international tennis and social set and site of a bustling navy base, was the brainchild of...

  21. 15 Duke, Prez, and Billie
    (pp. 266-277)

    The relationship between Norman Granz and Duke Ellington, to appropriate the words of Winston Churchill, was “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” as subtle as an Ellington/Strayhorn arrangement. Two proud men with healthy egos to match, they became more intertwined professionally than ever over the eight years beginning in 1958, when the bandleader accepted Granz’s offer to help manage the band for no fees or percentages. Granz saw his managerial assistance as a service he could perform on behalf of jazz based on his paramount regard for his music , if not always the man himself, and...

  22. 16 Joie de Verve
    (pp. 278-294)

    The April 9, 1959, recording session for the albumBen Webster and Associatesat Nola Studios in New York brought together musicians that Norman Granz loved to produce in a fashion he had long since mastered. “I was recording Ben Webster, and Coleman Hawkins came up just to watch the session,” he said. “I was going to record Ben again the next day, and he said, ‘Hawk, do you want to do it?’ His fellow saxophonist said, ‘Sure.’ Ben was at the barber shop the next morning when he ran into Budd Johnson. So he invited him and Budd showed...

  23. 17 Across the Sea
    (pp. 295-307)

    “In America I was a manager, but here I am an impresario,” Norman Granz said in May 1960, two years after he had revealed his intentions to carve out a still larger slice of the European concert business. In doing so, he was benefiting from his understanding at the time that American entertainment and culture on a broader scale were following jazz in search of markets abroad, in no small part because of his efforts. Jazz would always be at the heart of his passion, but that did not stop him from plugging other musical acts into the circuit he...

  24. 18 “Musicians Don’t Want to Jam”
    (pp. 308-323)

    Nat Hentoff’s description of the “increasingly bleak” state of jazz in the summer of 1964 paralleled Norman Granz’s disenchantment as far as live music was concerned. Hentoff blamed the fragmentation of jazz into schools, developing in the 1950s, that drew “transitory listeners who were more interested in being currently hip than in reacting to the music itself”; the overly intellectual influences of the West Coast and Brubeck; soul music; a dwindling nightclub scene; the success of FM radio; and a proliferation of albums that normally sold five thousand copies or less. “A jazz partisan, therefore, can spend a much cheaper...

  25. 19 Picasso on the Beach
    (pp. 324-335)

    “One of the most joyful periods of my life was when I was in Europe and spent time on many occasions with Pablo Picasso,” Norman Granz recalled in 2000. “He would show me his new paintings and things that he was doing.”¹ Granz entered Pablo Picasso’s circle late in the artist’s life, after being introduced to him by the uranium magnate and art patron Joseph Hirschorn in 1968, although Picasso had long been one of Granz’s main artistic heroes. He was close enough to the then eighty-six-year-old artist to get an inside view of his life. Lunch was a leisurely...

  26. 20 “One More Once”
    (pp. 336-355)

    The last thing Norman Granzneededto do in the early 1970s was to get back into the record business for what would turn out to be almost fifteen years. But that is exactly what he did. Memories of Granz provided by the late British author, critic, and musician Benny Green, whose liner notes were regular features on Pablo Records, reveal the richness of the life Granz was enjoying during his first retirement from the studio. Green, one of the few welcomed within Granz’s inner circle, came to appreciate the array of interests beyond music that occupied him. “He knows...

  27. 21 Takin’ It on Out—for Good
    (pp. 356-372)

    In 1978 Tom Snyder, host of NBC TV’sTomorrow Show, provided Norman Granz a rare national audience for his thoughts concerning the state of jazz. He was joined on the broadcast by Oscar Peterson, Leonard Feather, and guitarist George Benson, then at the height of his popularity. In Peterson, Granz had a philosophical ally on the sanctity of jazz as a pure art form. Benson had realized a smash crossover success on Warner Bros. Records withBreezin’in 1976. The sole vocal track, Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade,” shot to number 10 on the pop singles charts and pushed the album...

  28. 22 “Somewhere There’s Music”
    (pp. 373-386)

    The rehearsal for the gala benefit performance at Avery Fisher Hall honoring Ella Fitzgerald on Monday, February 12, 1990, brought together for the last time the largest gathering of Jazz at the Philharmonic alums and other musicians associated with Norman Granz. Benny Carter wrote arrangements and conducted for the all-star orchestra gathered for the Hearts for Ella concert, featuring Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Louie Bellson, Clark Terry, Joe Williams, James Moody, and Tommy Flanagan. The evening, hosted by Lena Horne and Itzhak Perlman, also included appearances by Quincy Jones, George Shearing, Bobby McFerrin, Manhattan...

  29. Epilogue: “My Career, Such As It Is . . .”
    (pp. 387-392)

    If Norman Granz had hoped to be left to rest in peace, the obituaries and tributes that poured forth upon his death would have annoyed him. He had expressed contempt for late honors anyway, and these were as late as they come.

    “Granz was a true visionary, plain and simple—as a manager, a producer and a promoter,” wrote Jon Thurber in theLos Angeles Times. “Today, at a time when marketing and promotion are an intrinsic part of the jazz world, it’s hard to contextualize what a visionary he was. Over 60 years ago, when bebop’s primary appeal was...

  30. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 393-396)
  31. Chronology
    (pp. 397-400)
  32. Notes
    (pp. 401-436)
  33. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 437-448)
  34. Index
    (pp. 449-470)
  35. Back Matter
    (pp. 471-471)