The Granz Memory

Tadd Hershorn’s biography of Norman Granz (see Doug’s Picks in the right-hand column) is full of instances of the mental acuity and toughness that helped see the promoter and record executive through countless challenging situations as he presented jazz and fought discrimination. He had a memory that was legendary among the musicians he worked with. Here is a story not in Hershorn’s book.

When I was a college student in Seattle in the 1950s, I became acquainted with Percy Heath, the bassist of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Following a Jazz At The Philharmonic Concert, Heath asked me to accompany him to a party at the home of a buddy from his days as a World War Two pilot in the Tuskegee Airmen. I met Heath and Ray Brown in the lobby of their hotel. As we were preparing to leave for the party, Granz walked by. Percy introduced me to him. We all chatted for perhaps 30 seconds, the impresario, two famous musicians and an anonymous student.

Flash forward. In the 1980s when I was living in San Francisco, I went to hear Dizzy Gillespie in the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel. After his last set, I went backstage to greet Dizzy. As we talked, I noticed a figure seated at a table in the shadow of one of the ballroom curtains. Dizzy said, “Come over here and say hello to a friend of mine.” The friend, I saw, was Norman Granz, whom I had met just that once, in passing, in 1956. As Dizzy spoke my name, Granz said, “Oh, yes, we met in Seattle.”

For more on Granz, here’s a video that popped up on YouTube a few months ago. Described as a “taster,” it is apparently a promo for a documentary, but I have been able to learn no details about the full program.

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  1. Charlton Price says

    This tribute to Norman Granz, supplementing Tad’s solid bio of him, is one of the most important and welcome postings ever on Rifftides.. Not only because Norman lives in the legacy he created, but because the video provides powerful testimonials from friends and colleagues who can speak authoritatively, because of their own eminence, about Norman’s importance to the music, to the many artists he promoted, helped, and defended, and, through his commitment and courage, his importance in our cultural history and therefore in American life.

  2. says

    Got my copy of Hershorn sitting on top of the stack, next to go after Johnny Mercer by Lees. I’ve been awaiting a proper bio for Stormin’ Norman lo these many years, always fascinated by and curious to know more about the take-no-prisoners impresario beloved by the musicians he backed and served, who became a millionaire expatriate collector of Picasso. Tough promoter as benefactor and civil rights advocate still seems too good to be true.

    Meanwhile the film preview (if such it be) introduces another gotta-find-it. “Granz produced half of all Jazz LPs 1955-59”? Yow! How? Yet another huge concept must wrap my head around…