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Granz, Norman

GRANZ, NORMAN

GRANZ, NORMAN (1918–2001), U.S. jazz impresario. Born in Los Angeles to parents who owned a store that failed in the Depression, Granz grew up to make a fortune from the music he loved as a young man. After service in the Army Special Services in World War ii, he attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where his major was philosophy. In 1944, he created Jazz at the Philharmonic, a touring group that took the jazz idiom out of the smoky, noisy bars and dance halls and tucked it into sumptuous concert halls, where it flourished. He also represented stars like Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson and sought to protect black musicians from the abuses of segregation, insisting that their concerts be open to blacks, no matter how segregated the city. He began Jazz at the Philharmonic in Los Angeles with Nat King Cole, then a jazz pianist who worked with a trio but was not yet a pop star. Granz persuaded him to appear in concert with the saxophonist Lester Young and Billie Holiday, the singer. Besides providing good music, the concert raised money for young Mexicans, whom Granz felt had been wrongly arrested in the Zoot Suit riots of 1944. The concert proved a smashing success and within a few years an ever-changing troupe of musicians and singers, including J.J. Johnson, Benny Carter, Illinois Jacquet, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, and others, were touring the country under the Jazz at the Philharmonic rubric. Granz paid them, regardless of color, equally and well. He also persuaded Fitzgerald to record her "songbooks" of the works of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and other creators of American popular standards, recordings that kept selling well into the 21st century. Granz was also the founder, in 1955, of Verve Records, with which he recorded the artists whose appearances he sponsored. Under his leadership Verve captured some of the finest jazz performances ever recorded. He sold Verve to mgm in 1960; the label was subsequently taken over by Polygram. In 1974 Granz formed a record company he called Pablo, named after Picasso, whose work he admired and collected and whose friendship he cherished. From 1959 to the end of his life, Granz lived, mostly in retirement, in Geneva.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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