Norman Granz was born on August 6, 1918. In the early forties he began promoting Monday night jam sessions at the 331 Club in Los Angeles, using local players augmented by star sidemen from the touring big bands. In 1944 aged twenty six while working as a film editor at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studios he ordered a poster that was supposed to read "Jazz Concert At The Philharmonic Auditorium." Lacking sufficient space, the Los Angeles printer made it read "Jazz at the Philharmonic." Granz OK'd this and then, on a borrowed $300, presented the concert that the poster advertised. Ten years later, Jazz at the Philharmonic, Inc. had a turnover of $4 million.
The release of the first Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) records brought Granz national prominence. These were the first authorised records of live jazz, and they created a sensation. Their spectacular sales allowed Granz to begin his first JATP national tour in 1946. When the group arrived in New York for its concerts in May and June, they found an audience now accustomed to concert jazz, and the concerts were a great success. As with the prior Los Angeles performance, the New York concerts were recorded for eventual release on record.
From 1946 through 1949, Jazz at the Philharmonic had two national tours each year. In the fall of 1948, Granz entered into an agreement with Mercury Records to press and distribute both Jazz at the Philharmonic performances and a new series of studio recordings. Though he was aware of the publicity value that recordings had in promoting his concerts, he also signed and recorded artists who never toured with JATP, such as Bud Powell, Johnny Hodges, and Anita O'Day. While the recordings appeared on the Mercury label, Granz retained ownership of the masters. His first release was "The Jazz Scene," a deluxe, limited edition 12' 78rpm album.
When the Mercury agreement expired in 1953, Granz went independent and introduced his Clef label, which became home to most of his JATP stars. He also introduced the Norgran and Down Home labels for modern and traditional jazz. In addition to his accumulated roster of some of the most important jazz artists of the time; saxophonists Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Flip Phillips, and Illinois Jacquet; pianists Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson; the Count Basie band; drummer Gene Krupa; and, of course, Billie Holiday; he expanded and signed Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Ben Webster, and Lionel Hampton in 1953. Soon after, Buddy DeFranco, Louis Bellson, Tal Farlow, and Sonny Stitt, among others, joined the label.
In 1956, Ella Fitzgerald arrived. Granz had been her personal manager
for some time, though she had a recording contract with Decca. When the
Decca contract expired, he decided to consolidate all of his labels under
the Verve Records banner. Henceforth, all previous recordings on Granz's
various labels were retroactively referred to as Verve recordings. Fitzgerald's
abilities suggested that she be recorded in a pop context as well as jazz,
hence the Songbook series was introduced to feature the work of specific
composers. Granz kept his artists' pay well above average levels. Ella
Fitzgerald drew $5,000 a week. In December 1960, Granz sold his Verve holdings
to MGM, Inc., the film company. He became a resident of Switzerland.
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