Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Verve Norman Granz Centennial Celebration

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Given the legacy of recorded Jazz that Norman Granz has left Jazz fans, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought that the least it could do was to call attention to this boxed set commemorating the hundredth year of his birth.

Verve Records To Pay Tribute To Its Legendary Founder Norman Granz And His Centennial With Aptly-Titled All-Star Four-Disc Box Set The Founder.


“THE HISTORY OF JAZZ OFFERS A SELECT group of rebels who profoundly bent its fortunes without ever playing a note of music. One of these lone wolves was Norman Granz (1918-2001), who parlayed his own rarefied tastes and an indifference to industry norms into a vertically integrated jazz, empire. By gathering everything under one thumb — his own — he created, managed and marketed his own visions of what the record industry could achieve.

Today, the eldest surviving child of that empire is Verve Records, since 1998 a unit of Universal Music. And the label is celebrating the centennial of Granz's birth with a four-CD set featuring artists with whom he worked, including Louis Armstrong, Count Basic, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. Norman Granz: The Founder was programmed by Granz biographer Tad Hershorn, whose lively liner notes also provide the narration. "Even with all our labels today at Universal, Verve is still the one we use as our jazz brand," said Ken Druker, vice president for jazz development at Verve Label Group. "We hope this [box set] sells. It's an important part of our history. But it's not, as we say, a 'revenue play.'"

Danny Bennett, president/CEO of Verve Label Group, added: "Norman Granz's dedication to equality and social justice — for his artists and his audiences — was extraordinary in his time and is still relevant today. Every day we at Verve operate in the pioneering spirit of Norman Granz."

There is some irony in the notion of an enormous music corporation celebrating a man who likely wouldn't rise within its ranks today. Hostile to intrusion and indifferent to the marketplace, Granz relished his sovereignty. For him, nothing mattered but doing it his way. As a producer, though, his touch was light.

Granz began his impresario days in 1942 organizing off-night jam sessions in Los Angeles clubs. In 1944, he had an epiphany: If a jam could draw 200 in a club, why not 2,000 in L.A. Philharmonic Auditorium? "Jazz at the Philharmonic," he thought, had a nice ring to it, and the debut concert in July was recorded. As Granz listened days later, he was struck by how the concert's excitement could be felt through the recording and saw a new dimension in commercial recording: music as documentary. It would be the great innovation of his career. Granz took the Philharmonic recordings to executive Manie Sacks at Columbia, "but Sacks couldn't see the possibilities," Granz later said. So, the chance to issue the first live concert records in 1945 fell to an obscure label owned by Moses Asch.

The "|azz at the Philharmonic" concept caught fire, fueled by the push-pull of concerts and records promoting each other. "For the first 10 years," Granz said in 1997, "the concerts subsidized the record company. Every artist didn't necessarily carry his own weight."

In 1956, Granz consolidated everything under a single brand, and Verve was born. Though spread across four discs, Ihe Founder can't hit all the bases. But it shines light into some less expected early corners, like a track by the Ralph Burns Orchestra with Lee Konitz. "We wanted it to be a good listen," Druker said. "So, we kept the focus on the music flow."               

—John McDonough writing in the April 2019 edition of Downbeat

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 13, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- In jazz circles, few names command more respect than Norman Granz.Although he wasn't a musician, Granz (1918-2001) was as responsible as any individual for popularizing jazz and promoting the careers of many of the genre's greatest artists. Granz's incredible half-century career first took off with his creation of the groundbreaking Jazz at the Philharmonic concert series. But Granz was equally influential for the series of record labels that he launched in the 1940s and 1950s: Clef, Norgran and Verve.

Those companies became home to many of jazz's most important and influential artists. And, unlike many of his contemporaries, Granz combined his love for the music with a passion for social justice, championing African-American musicians at a time when those musicians were often exploited and disrespected.

Now, in honor of the hundredth anniversary of Norman Granz's birth, Verve/UMe has assembled The Founder, a four-CD/digital box set celebrating his remarkable life and career. The historic package was released on December 7, 2018 and features a massive chronological assortment of music spanning Granz's remarkable career and featuring music by most of the great musicians he recorded.

The package also includes illuminating liner notes by jazz historian and Granz authority Tad Hershorn, author of the Granz biography Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice. As Hershorn writes, "The underpinnings of Granz's lifelong devotion to jazz came when, as a near-impoverished but ambitious UCLA student, he began his trek to African-American nightclubs along Central Avenue, not far from where he was born the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants."

"Granz hit the clubs almost nightly when musicians began welcoming him behind the scenes to observe rehearsals, after-hours clubs, and house parties. He saw them as 'marvelous crucibles,' hearing the friendly, intense competition as musicians challenged their peers and developed their styles. His early experiences led to his preference for musical blow-by-blow competition and emphasizing the emotional over intellectual qualities in jazz. Granz took it a step further when he aligned the jam session with the democratic ideal, whereby you could either stand and deliver, or you couldn't. Skin color made no difference. 'As in genuine democracy, only performance counts,' Granz told the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis, in 1947. 'Jazz is truly the music of democratic America.'"

Granz's parallel passions for jazz and social justice was reflected in the ambitious artist lineups he assembled for his Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, many of which are featured on The Founder. These shows were almost single-handedly responsible for moving jazz from smoky clubs to prestigious theaters and, in the process, introduced jazz improvisation to new and receptive audiences. The series also helped to break down many of the era's social barriers, showcasing a racially-mixed assortment of musicians and singers from a variety of musical backgrounds.

The four CDs that comprise The Founder encompass some of the most significant jazz music recorded in the 20th century, beginning with Granz's founding of the Clef label in 1942 and culminating in his retirement and departure from Verve Records (which he'd launched four years earlier) in 1960.
Disc 1 opens in 1942, during the early wild-west days of independent label recording, with historic performances by such rising players as Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and Lester Young, who were among the first musicians that Granz recorded. Disc 1 also captures a young Nat "King" Cole, accompanied by Illinois Jacquet and Les Paul, on the crowd-thrilling "Blues," which contrasts with the bouncy pop which would later make Cole a mainstream superstar.

Disc 2, which spans 1949-1954, finds Granz settled in at the top of the jazz world and recording a varied assortment of some of jazz's leading lights, including the great pianist Oscar Peterson, charismatic vocalists Anita O'Day and Fred Astaire, and innovative bandleaders Count Basie and Benny Carter.

Disc 3, recorded between 1954 and 1957, encompasses the early years of the Norgran and Verve labels, which Granz founded during that period, and features historic performances by such icons as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Lester Young and Lionel Hampton.

Disc 4, which covers 1957-1960, shows Granz ending on a high note, culminating his career at Verve with history-making performances by Dizzy Gillespie, Blossom Dearie, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Ben Webster,Paul Desmond, Stuff Smith, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre and Mel Tormé.

It's hard to imagine a more appropriate tribute to Norman Granz's visionary genius than this incredible musical testament.

Disc 1: Mercury/Clef, 1942-1948
  1. I Blowed and Gone - Dexter Gordon
  2. Blues - Nat "King" Cole, Illinois Jacquet & Les Paul
  3. I Got Rhythm - Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker & Lester Young
  4. Picasso - Coleman Hawkins
  5. Sono - Harry Carney
  6. The Bloos - George Handy & His Orchestra

Disc 2: Mercury/Clef, 1949-1954
  1. Tenderly - Oscar Peterson Duo with Ray Brown
  2. Vignette at Verney's - Ralph Burns Orchestra with Lee Konitz
  3. Lullaby of the Leaves - Anita O'Day
  4. The New Basie Blues - Count Basie and His Orchestra
  5. Con Poco Coco - Andre's All Stars
  6. Castle Rock - Johnny Hodges
  7. Jeep's Blues - Johnny Hodges
  8. (Ad Lib) Slow Dance - Fred Astaire
  9. No Strings (I'm Fancy Free) - Fred Astaire
  10. Flamingo - Benny Carter and His Orchestra
  11. With the Wind and the Rain in Your Hair - Tal Farlow
  12. Easy Living - Buddy DeFranco & Oscar Peterson Quartet
  13. Blues for the Count - Count Basie and His Orchestra
  14. They Can't Take That Away from Me - Buddy DeFranco & Oscar Peterson

Disc 3: Norgran/Verve, 1954-1957
  1. I Thought About You - Billie Holiday
  2. I Thought About You - Ella Fitzgerald
  3. Like Someone in Love - Bud Powell
  4. Pig Ears and Rice - Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra
  5. Can't We Be Friends - Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
  6. Blue Room - Bing Crosby & Buddy Bregman
  7. Taking a Chance on Love - Lester Young & Teddy Wilson
  8. What A Little Moonlight Can Do - Billie Holiday
  9. Falling in Love with Love - Oscar Peterson Trio
  10. Yellow Rose of Brooklyn - Harry "Sweets" Edison & Buddy Rich
  11. Time After Time - Lawrence Brown

Disc 4: Verve, 1957-1960
  1. Day By Day - Coleman Hawkins Newport All-Stars feat. Pete Brown
  2. On the Sunny Side of the Street - Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt & Sonny Rollins
  3. It Never Entered My Mind - Stan Getz
  4. I Know That You Know - Stuff Smith
  5. D and E Blues - The Modern Jazz Quartet
  6. Budd Johnson - Ben Webster
  7. If I Were a Bell - Blossom Dearie
  8. Chelsea Bridge - Gerry Mulligan & Ben Webster
  9. Line for Lyons - Gerry Mulligan & Paul Desmond
  10. Somp'n Outa' Nothin' - Lee Konitz & Jimmy Giuffre
  11. Thank You Charlie Christian - Herb Ellis
  12. Lonely Town - Mel Tormé & Marty Paich Orchestra
  13. Evil Eyes - Terry Gibbs Big Band

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