An American jazz music impresario and producer.
Granz was a fundamental figure in American jazz, especially from about 1947 to 1960. He was the founder of five record labels: Clef, Norgran, Down Home, Verve and Pablo.
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 Mercury Records for the promotion and the distribution of the JATP recordings and other recordings.
After the agreement expired in 1953 he issued the JATP recordings and other recordings on Clef Records (founded 1946) and Norgran Records (founded 1953). Down Home Records was meant to be reserved for traditional jazz works.
Tours - USA and Canada (1945–1957):
1st National Tour: Late Fall/Winter of 1945-46. 2nd National Tour: Spring, 1946. 3rd National Tour: Fall, 1946. 4th National Tour: Spring, 1947. 5th National Tour: Fall, 1947. 6th National Tour: Spring, 1948. 7th National Tour: Fall, 1948. 8th National Tour: Spring, 1949. 9th National Tour: Fall, 1949. 10th National Tour: Fall, 1950. 11th National Tour: Fall, 1951. 12th National Tour: Fall, 1952. 13th National Tour (USA, Canada, Hawaii, Australia and Japan): Fall, 1953. 14th National Tour: Fall, 1954. 16th National Tour (Note: the 15th National Tour, in the fall of 1955, was renamed: 16th National Tour, just weeks before the start of the JATP Tour): Fall, 1955. 17th National Tour: Fall, 1956. 18th National Tour: Fall, 1957.
Tours - Europe (1952–1959):
1st European Tour: Spring, 1952. 2nd European Tour (Only two concerts in the UK: London, March 8 at Gaumont State Kilburn): Spring, 1953. 3rd European Tour: Spring, 1954. 4th European Tour: Spring, 1955. 5th European Tour: Spring, 1956. 6th European Tour: Spring, 1957. 7th European Tour (1st UK Tour!): Spring, 1958. 8th European Tour: Spring, 1959.
Jazz at the Philharmonic ceased touring the United States and Canada, after the JATP concerts in the fall of 1957 (One final North American Tour in 1967!), but continued intermittently mainly in Europe and Japan until 1983, with the very last JATP concerts being performed in October, 1983, in Tokyo, Japan.
Many of the names that made history in jazz signed with one of Norman Granz's labels, including Cannonball Adderley, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Louie Bellson, Ray Brown, Benny Carter, Buck Clayton, Paulinho Da Costa, Buddy DeFranco, Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington, Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Bill Harris, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges, Billie Holiday, Milt Jackson, Illinois Jacquet, Hank Jones, Barney Kessel, Gene Krupa, Ken Kersey, Anita O'Day (the first artist to sign with Verve), Charlie Parker, Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, Flip Phillips, Bud Powell, Buddy Rich, Charlie Shavers, Sonny Stitt, Slim Gaillard, Art Tatum, Ben Webster and Lester Young.
Granz became very wealthy and he 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, losing considerable sums of money thereby.
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 "community", and Granz 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 a 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, Pablo Records, in 1973; in 1987, he sold it to Fantasy Records.
Norman Granz is generally remembered also for his notable anti-racist position and for the battles he consequently fought for his artists (many, perhaps the majority, of whom were black), 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.
Granz nevertheless insisted on fighting the charges, which cost him the immense sum of $2,000. 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, not only 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.
A detailed look at Norman, his career and his legacy can be found in Tad Hershorn's 2011 book "Norman Granz-The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice".
Granz died in Geneva, Switzerland, 2001 at the age of 83.
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