Thursday, November 23, 2017

For the love of George

George Avakian, Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins
Newport Jazz Festival, July 6, 1963
©Burt Goldblatt/CTS Images
George Avakian has died. He was 98. He lived a long, good life. For us, music lovers, the important bit is that he was a record producer, and a pioneer at that. Trying to give a fair overview of his whole career is almost impossible, and you will notice that, more often than not, the focus is on less than a decade, from 1950—when he produced Benny Goodmanʼs Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert—till 1958, when he left Columbia Records. Not all eras deserve the same attention, and those years were very intense for Avakian: he signed Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner and a certain Miles Davis into the big time, and relaunched the careers of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. But before that, he established, or helped establish, the concepts of the jazz album and the reissues of older recordings, a paradigm still extant. After those heady times at Columbia, he produced Sonny Rollinsʼs comeback in the sixties, beginning with The Bridge, all the studio recordings of Paul Desmond with Jim Hall—one LP for Warner Bros., the rest for RCA—and launched the careers of Charles Lloyd and Keith Jarrett. And still, this doesnʼt make him justice (, as good as it is, barely scratches the surface).