Norman Granz, the founder of five jazz record labels who was a significant activist for racial integration in public performances during the 1940s and ’50s, died in Geneva, Switzerland on this date in 2001. Granz organized (on borrowed money) the famous “Jazz at the Philharmonic” jam session series in L.A. in 1944 and ’45, which yielded the first widely distributed live jam session recordings and a series of national touring concerts for the next dozen years featuring racially integrated bands. He cancelled more than one concert in venues that tried to segregate audiences or refused to accord black musicians the same accommodations as whites, and he was known for paying black and white musicians equally and for putting his own safety on the line to assure their fair and equal treatment. Among the artists signed by Granz’s labels were Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald (whose great career he managed), Count Basie, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Gene Krupa, Anita O’Day, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, Lester Young, and numerous other jazz giants. Granz lived to be 83 and spent much of his last three decades in Europe. To read Gary Ferdman’s account of the political collaboration between Norman Granz and Dizzy Gillespie, click here. To see Norman Granz introducing “Jazz at the Philharmonic” on television in 1956, look below.
“See the tall old man standing next to Ella Fitzgerald, and they don’t know who he is…” —Norman Granz