Norman Granz (August 6, 1918- November 22, 2001) is a name that many jazz-fans may not immediately recognize. However, that same person would likely recognize “Jazz at the Philharmonic,” record labels Clef, Norgran, Down Home, Verve and Pablo—all of which he started. And that jazz-fan would surely recognize the names Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, both personally managed by him.
Tad Hershorn is an archivist at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. He has done an excellent piece of scholarly research in documenting the life of this somewhat enigmatic man. Hershorn relates that his deep interest in Granz when he wrote a college thesis on the man. Following up, Hershorn contacted Granz with the idea to write a biography. He was turned down. Subsequently, toward the end of Granz’ life, Norman contacted him and gave Hershorn full access to his papers and participated in extensive interviews. Interestingly, and consistent with the famous Granz reserve, Hershorn says that they never became friends.
Granz was son of Russian immigrants and grew up in an ethnically mixed neighborhood. At age 25, Granz organized the first concert, entitled “A Jazz Concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium.” Advertising flyers shortened it to “Jazz at the Philharmonic” and this was the subsequent title of those events even when he toured. Granz insisted that his players be paid the same, whatever race, and that concerts be presented to non-segregated audiences.
Granz was drafted in the Army and was associating with the Negro soldiers, having discovered their accommodations in the service were nowhere equal to that of the whites. He would buy jazz records and bring back to the base for them to play. He was recommended for Officer’s Candidate School but was turned down for unstated reasons, presumably because of his liberal views on racial equality. He then studied the Uniform Code of Military Justice and found an obscure provision which stated that if one were turned down “for no stated reason,” that person could petition for discharge. He petitioned and discharge and, in the middle of WWII, it was granted. So, he hitch-hiked from Texas back to California and resumed promoting jazz concerts.
Hershorn details growth and popularity of the JATP concert concept, first in the US and then in Europe.
There are many examples of his relationship with his musicians, mostly good, and his relationship with business associates and musical producer colleagues—many times mixed and occasionally downright difficult. Similarly, details of his recording businesses and their successes. He was an astute businessman and his successes in that area made him wealthy.
Granz discovered Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson and became Peterson’s only personal manager. Similarly, Granz felt that Ella Fitzgerald’s personal manager and the record companies were not allowing her to reach her full potential. She subsequently signed on with Granz who made favorable recording deals for her and expanded her vocal opportunities. Interestingly, it would appear that she and Granz weren’t particularly close friends but that she trusted his business acumen. Hence, it was a mutually beneficial relationship.
Granz gradually extricated himself from the burdens of touring, married for the third time and lived in Switzerland. The book also covers Granz’ interest in things epicurean—food, wine and art. He became friends with Pablo Picasso late in the artist’s life.
This book is a valuable addition to the jazz literature. I appreciated the detail with which the author describes Granz’ activities as well as personal and business relationship. Foreword is by Oscar Peterson. There is a chronology of Granz’ life, full end notes and bibliography. On a personal note, this is the first book I have read in which I read the entire end notes, ascertaining the author’s sources, before reading the text.
Review by Norman Vickers