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George Avakian
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MessagePosté le: Ven 13 Mai 2016 - 10:41
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MessagePosté le: Ven 13 Mai 2016 - 20:51
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Hayganouch a écrit:



 George Avakian

Today is George Avakian's birthday. For more than 70 years,
George has shaped how jazz was recorded and regarded. As a pop and jazz LP producer starting in the mid-1940s, George was a visionary at a time when several recording technologies and formats were emerging and competing. In the first decade of the LP era, his innovative album concepts for Columbia transformed jazz from a fringe genre to nationally acclaimed performance art. In this regard, George served as both an eyewitness to modern jazz history and a catalyst, raising jazz's profile while serving as architect of its sophisticated image. [Photo of George Avakian by Ian Clifford]
George's "firsts" speak volumes. He produced the first jazz album in 1940 (for Decca). He wrote the first jazz album liner notes. He
produced the first 10-inch LP at Columbia in 1948 (The Voice of Frank Sinatra). He produced the first 12-inch jazz LP in 1950 (Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall, 1938), which also happened to be the first double-LP set. He signed Miles Davis in 1955 and helped make the trumpeter jazz's first modern superstar. He revived the careers of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. He also founded Warner Brothers Records—and we're only up to 1958.
In Part 1 of my five-part series with George, 91, the father of the jazz LP talks about interviewing Benny Goodman for his high school newspaper, writing to Decca Records in 1938 and pitching a series of jazz albums, producing one of them, and having to learn about the music through French jazz books:

JazzWax: When did you first fall in love with jazz?
George Avakian: In 1935, at age 16. I was supposed to be sleeping but instead I was up sneaking a listen to
NBC on the radio. I first heard broadcasts from New York’s Savoy Ballroom. But the music didn’t resemble Yes We Have No Bananas and other novelty stuff of the day. It was the music of Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and Louis Armstrong.
JW: Why did the music appeal to you?
GA: It reminded me of the lively dance music, ballads and other folk music that my parents had brought to America from Armenia and played in the house. I think that’s why many European immigrant families identified with jazz. There was that common ethnic bond.

JW: Did your obsession with late-night radio grow?
GA: Yes. As I became more deeply interested in the musicians with the strange-sounding names, I began
to listen regularly on Saturdays to NBC’s Let’s Dance program, which came on at 10:30 p.m. in New York and lasted for hours. NBC used to divide the broadcast among three different types of music, so there would be something for everyone. There was sweet band music by Kel Murray, Latin by Xavier Cugat and dance band music by Benny Goodman.

JW: By the summer of 1935, Goodman’s status had changed, didn’t it?
GA: Oh, yes. When Goodman went out on the road to California with his band that year, his music’s popularity died as he traveled west. People just weren’t interested. But when the band reached the Palomar 
Ballroom in Los Angeles in August 1935, the roof came off there was so much excitement. NBC’s Let’s Dance broadcasts had built an audience for him, Benny was so popular out there that he didn’t return to New York for a year.

JW: How did you feel about Goodman?
GA: I was more than a fan. When I heard that Goodman was scheduled to return to New York in September 1936, I saw an opportunity. I was editor of
my high school newspaper at the Horace Mann School for Boys. I decided I was going to interview Mr. Goodman. His record of King Porter Stomp had been No. 1 on "Your Hit Parade" for weeks. Imagine, a composition originally written in 1903 by Jelly Roll Morton ends up being the biggest selling record in the country. The question was how to reach someone like Benny Goodman.

JW: What did you do?
GA: I told a classmate what I wanted to do. He said that his mother was on the Democratic Committee in
New York and that its president was owner of the Hotel Pennsylvania, where Benny was due to play for an extended period. My friend said that his mom might be able to arrange for me to interview him.

JW: What happened?
GA: I caught a break. The hotel’s owner agreed to put us together. In November, I interviewed Mr. Goodman in the hotel’s Manhattan Room. Benny enjoyed
the experience so much that he told his band manager, “Take good care of George and his friend. They’re nice kids. Be sure they have a good table.” After the show, we were invited to hear the band rehearse pop tunes of the day for the following week’s Camel Caravan radio program.

JW: How was it?
GA: A thrill. And the musicians were so nice to us—probably because we responded immediately to requests for sandwiches [[i]laughs[/i]].

JW: After you graduated from high school, you attended Yale. What did you study?
GA: English literature, which I had discovered years earlier by picking up a Sherlock Holmes story. When I
asked the school librarian for more stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, she brought me a big thick book. I ate it up in about 10 days. That’s when I decided I wanted to be an English teacher or a journalist.

JW: In 1938, while at Yale, you wrote to Decca Records. Why?
GA: Yes, I did. And they responded a year later. I had been campaigning for jazz to be recorded and released like classical albums
of the day. Back then, classical albums featured multiple 78-rpms that slid into sleeves. They also came with a booklet that featured beautiful photos and text describing the music and why the composer and performers were important.

JW: What did you write in your letter to Decca?
GA: I proposed that they do a series of jazz albums and start with tributes to the styles of the three cities that made jazz famous—New Orleans, Kansas City and Chicago.

JW: What was Decca’s response?
GA: Decca said in essence, “We don’t know quite what jazz in those cities is about but you seem to know so why don't you go ahead and produce them.”

JW: Be careful what you wish for, right?
GA: I was excited. I was pretty close with the musicians from Chicago who had moved to New York
during the Depression, like Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman [pictured] and Jimmy McPartland. I made that album first. But when time came to get paid, I found out that Decca was going to pay me only $75, which was less than it had cost me to go to Chicago and do one recording session with Jimmy McPartland.

JW: What happened?
GA: I decided I was in over my head. I told them to take the material I had outlined for the other two sets
and to give them to the two people I thought would do the best job—Steve Smith for the New Orleans set and Dave Dexter for Kansas City. Smith was a collector who had started the United Hot Clubs of America. Dave had been the Kansas City Star’s crime reporter and knew all about the jazz scene there.

JW: What was your album called?
GA: Chicago Jazz, and it was the first jazz album ever
recorded. It had six 10-inch 78-rpm discs, which meant a total of 12 songs. I wrote a 12-page booklet, which became the first jazz album liner notes. I produced those records between my sophomore and junior years at Yale in 1939 and 1940.

JW: Had you written to other record labels?
GA: Yes. And oddly enough, just after my Decca set came out, Columbia Records answered some of the letters I had written them about reissues. I had written the company after discovering Okeh Records over the Thanksgiving weekend in 1936.

JW: What happened?
GA: That fall, Julian Koenig, a friend of mine, had told his older brother, Lester, a senior at Dartmouth,
that I was interested in swing music. Lester read the interview I had just done with Benny Goodman and said to Julian, “Ask George what he thinks of Louis Armstrong.”

JW: What did you say?
GA: I gave him an honest answer since I had been 
buying Louis’ Decca records: “Oh, he sings funny but he sure plays a lot of trumpet” [[i]laughs[/i]]. Lester’s response was, “Gee, George has never heard the Okehs. I’m going to knock his ears off Thanksgiving weekend.”

JW: Did he?
GA: When he came home to New York for Thanksgiving, Lester invited me over and, wow,
imagine out of the blue hearing West End Blues and all those other great classics of Armstrong's. I said, “How can I get them?” Lester said, “You can’t. They’re out of print.” I said, “Who owns them?” He said, “Brunswick Records bought them up long ago and they’re sitting on them.”

JW: What did he suggest?
GA: Lester urged me to write to Brunswick. He said, “They’re in the phone book. But if you want to find out about the history of this music, you can’t do it in the U.S. because there are no books that will help you.” Jazz scholarship and jazz writing didn't exist the way it does today.

JW: What was his suggestion?
GA: Lester said, “If you studied French at Horace Mann, then you must know enough to do this: Send an $8 money order to La Volta Music at 75 Boulevard Raspail in Paris and request two books.

JW: What were they?
GA: Charles Delaunay’s Hot Discography and Hugues
Panassie’s Le Jazz Hot, a definitive guide to jazz musicians that explained why they were great. There was a summary at the end of each chapter telling you which records to buy. Of course, the records recommended were the European releases, but the book gave me a head start.
JW: Was Lester...
GA: That Lester Koenig? Yes. Lester went on to found Contemporary Records in California in 1951.

Tomorrow, George talks about befriending jazz authority Marshall Stearns at Yale, being summoned by Columbia chief Ted Wallerstein to the company's Bridgeport, CT, plant, being drafted into the Army in 1941, and hearing Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at Billy Berg's in Los Angeles upon his return to the U.S. in 1946.

JazzWax clip: Here's one of the sides from the Chicago Jazz album for Decca that George Avakian produced between 1939 and 1940...

In 1938, recordings by the latest
swing bands were plentiful. The three major record companies that dominated the market (RCA, Columbia and Decca) saw to that. But earlier releases from the 1920s and 1930s that were recorded by companies that had gone bust were out of print. And other than a magazine or two, there were no books published in the U.S. on jazz, no jazz encyclopedias and no jazz discographies. Jazz was music without an archived past, which baffled a young George Avakian, who loved jazz but was hard-pressed for information and pre-swing recordings. [Photo of George Avakian in 2007 by Hank O'Neal]
George's earlier questions about the music were not unlike your own today. Who were these guys who could play such amazing solos? Where did they come from? Who were
their teachers? What else did they record? And who were their inspirations? The difference was George had no resources to turn to for answers. Instead, he had to find jazz authorities, question them, read French jazz books and become an expert without the source material we now take for granted. [Pictured: Johnny Dodds]
In Part 2 of my five-part interview series with George, the first jazz and pop LP producer, talks about befriending Marshall Stearns at Yale, meeting with Columbia president Ted Wallerstein, service in the Army during World War II, and seeing Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at Billy Berg's in Los Angeles:
JazzWax: Did you continue your interest in jazz at Yale?
George Avakian: Yes. Coincidentally, Marshall Stearns, the leading authority on jazz history at the
time and one of the most noted jazz critics, was studying literature at Yale. He lived in New Haven and had an open house every Friday night. He invited me to come over to listen to jazz records and talk about them. [Photo of Marshall Stearns by Walter Sanders for [i]Life[/i]]

JW: How were those sessions?
GA: Extraordinary. For two years we got together to listen. Along the way, Marshall tired of writing his
"Collector's Corner" columns for Tempo magazine and asked me to take it on from time to time. That was a daunting task because I didn’t feel I had the authority to answer collectors’ mailed-in questions.

JW: Why did they write in?
GA: You have to understand, before the Internet, before jazz became popular, before large record stores and before entire sections of bookstores were devoted to jazz books, information about the music and even records were hard to find or didn't exist.

JW: But records had been made for years.
GA: Yes, but records that went out of print stayed out of print.
Before World War II, you had to learn about jazz by listening carefully to the records you could get your hands on, reading mostly French books on the subject, and by searching out experts.

JW: Did Stearns put you at ease about handling his column?
GA: He said, “You can do it. Just go into my closet and pick out the records you have to check out to answer
readers’ questions.” So I did. In Tempo magazine, Marshall had his byline, and his address appeared at the bottom so people could write in with questions. When I took on the column, I had my address at Yale there, and I’d get letters addressed, “Dear Professor Avakian…” [[i]laughs[/i]]. I was just a sophomore.

JW: When did Columbia Records answer your letters?
GA: Early in my junior year, right after my Chicago
Jazz album for Decca came out. Ted Wallerstein, president of Columbia Records, asked me to come to the company’s factory in Bridgeport, CT, which was about 20 miles from Yale.

JW: What did he want?
GA: He wanted to talk about the possibility of a jazz reissue program. I figured he had read one of my letters, but that turned out not to be the case.

JW: How did you know that?
GA: At the meeting in Bridgeport with various company executives, it was clear Mr. Wallerstein had invited me 
there after seeing my Decca album. At the meeting, he asked the factory manager to choose a letter he had received urging Columbia to reissue classic jazz records the label owned. As the manager started to read the letter, I began to realize it was mine.

JW: What did you do?
GA: I interrupted to say that I might have been the writer of that letter.

JW: What happened?
GA: The manager looked at the bottom of the letter and said, “So you did—two years ago.” Mr. Wallerstein then asked me, “Did you get an answer, young man?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “What was the answer?” he asked. I said, “The letter said that the company’s advertising department in New York handles such matters and that I’d hear from them shortly.” [Illustration: [i]Bridgeport[/i] by Jim Flora]

JW: What did Wallerstein say?
GA: He said, “Did you ever hear from them?” “No sir,” I said. Mr. Wallerstein said, “Well I’m
hiring you at $25 a week to come to this factory and get all the test pressings you want, listen to them and put out all the albums you want according to the plans outlined in your letter—four albums at a time and then some singles for special releases.”

JW: What did you think?
GA: I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t wait to get started.

JW: Did all of this affect your schoolwork at Yale?
GA: It sure did. It knocked me off the dean’s list, but I
graduated anyway. It gave me a punch line for my 90th birthday party last year. I said, “I’m upset that I got knocked off the dean’s list at Yale and that my grandchildren have better grades in college than I did when I graduated” [[i]laughs[/i]].

JW: You graduated from Yale in 1941?
GA: Yes. Then I was drafted into the Army.

JW: What did you do in the Army?
GA: I ended up in New Guinea and then at the invasions of Leyte and Mindanao islands in the
Philippines. I was fortunate. Even though I was a sergeant in the infantry, I wasn’t actually on the front lines. I was assigned to a rear-echelon unit. We did interpretations of aerial photos and reconnaissance work. It was an intelligence unit. I was discharged in February 1946, as a second lieutenant.

JW: What did you do when you arrived back in the U.S.?
GA: I came back by way of
Los Angeles because I wanted to see my sister, who had married a colonel in the Air Corps. That visit led me to hear Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker at Billy Berg’s club. The entire music scene was changing.

JW: Was it new to you?
GA: Yes and no. I had heard much of it already when I went up to Minton’s in Harlem on furloughs in New
York. I also had hit the jam sessions in Greenwich Village and on 52d Street. So I was a little onto the scene by 1946. But hearing Gillespie and Parker was an experience.

JW: Was Billy Berg’s as empty as they say?
GA: Yes. I went there three times with Ross Russell of
Dial Records. He was a terrific enthusiast for the music and was about to start recording Parker out there. At the club, there were never more than 12 people in the audience. Yet Parker and Gillespie played with enormous fervor.

JW: Who hired you at Columbia in 1946?
GA: Mr. Wallersein. He liked what I had done with Columbia’s reissue series, which had to be canceled
when the Japanese army reached Malaysia and cut off the world’s supply of shellac. But he had liked my work. In 1941, after I was drafted, he had said to me, “If your father allows it, I’d like you to work for me after the war.” He knew that my father wanted me to go into my family business, which imported Oriental rugs.

JW: When you went to see Wallerstein after the war, did he remember you?
GA: He did. I visited him in early 1946, just after returning to New York. The first thing he asked me
was, “Did you speak to your father?” I said, “Yes, sir, and here’s what he said: ‘You went to college and went into the Army and came back in one piece, thank God. Go enjoy yourself in the record business.’ My father also said that when I was ready to get serious about life, I’d join the family business [[i]laughs[/i]].

JW: You started with Columbia in 1946?
GA: Yes.

JW: So, did you ever work in your family’s business?
GA: Yes, 25 years later. It was a great experience to
work for Avakian Brothers and travel to Iran, Pakistan and India buying carpets. [Pictured: Aram Avakian of Avakian Brothers demonstrating how an Oriental rug is made, for a 1981 [i]Milwaukee Sentinel [/i]article]

Tomorrow, George talks about the birth of Columbia's long-playing microgroove album, the moment he decided to sign Miles Davis, why he viewed the trumpeter as more than a jazz star, and the strategy that got Davis out of his Prestige contract in 1956 with the blessing of the label's owner.

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MessagePosté le: Lun 16 Mai 2016 - 08:49
MessageSujet du message: George Avakian
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Merci vahe2009, ainsi présenté, c est plus lisible.

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MessagePosté le: Aujourd’hui à 09:52
MessageSujet du message: George Avakian

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