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Bruce Lundvall, Who Revived Blue Note, Dies at 79 – NYTimes.com

Bruce Lundvall, Who Revived Blue Note, Dies at 79 – NYTimes.com




Bruce Lundvall, Who Revived Blue Note, Dies at 79

Bruce Lundvall, the president of the jazz label Blue Note, in 2009. His career in the recording industry encompassed more than half a century. Credit Seth Wenig/Associated Press 

Bruce Lundvall, a record executive whose 25-year run at the helm of Blue Note, preceded by top positions at CBS and Elektra, made him one of the most influential figures behind the scenes in recent jazz history, died on Tuesday in Ridgewood, N.J. He was 79.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, according to a statement released by Blue Note.

Mr. Lundvall’s career in the recording industry encompassed more than half a century, with success across multiple genres. Blue Note had been an important jazz label for decades but had been dormant for years when he revived it under the umbrella of EMI Records in 1984, intent on celebrating its legacy while moving forward.

In “Bruce Lundvall: Playing by Ear,” a biography by Dan Ouellette published by ArtistShare last year, Mr. Lundvall recalled his three-pronged strategy for the label’s revitalization: “We had an important catalog, I could re-sign original Blue Note artists who were still alive and vital, and I had the opportunity to bring in new talent.”

Under his watch, Blue Note became home to pace-setting jazz artists like the singers Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson and Kurt Elling; the saxophonists Joe Lovano and Greg Osby; the guitarists Stanley Jordan, Pat Martino and John Scofield; and the pianists Jacky Terrasson, Jason Moran and Robert Glasper.

He also expanded the label’s stylistic purview, especially after the enormous success of Norah Jones, whose folk-pop-inflected debut album, “Come Away with Me” (2002), sold millions of copies and won eight Grammy Awards. “I don’t know where I would be in the world of music without Bruce as my friend and champion,” Ms. Jones said last year at the Kennedy Center, during a concert celebrating Blue Note’s 75th anniversary.

A jazz idealist but also a business-minded pragmatist, Mr. Lundvall shrugged off criticism of Blue Note’s subsequent forays into adult-oriented pop, as seen in albums by the eminent soul singer Al Green and the singer-songwriters Amos Lee and Keren Ann. His business model embraced the idea that success in one area of a label’s roster helped support other areas that were artistically worthy but less commercially viable.

“The hallmark of his tenure is that he proved that you can do the right thing for the music and the musicians and still run a profitable company,” Don Was, who succeeded Mr. Lundvall as Blue Note’s president, said last year.

Bruce Gilbert Lundvall, a grandson of Swedish immigrants, was born on Sept. 13, 1935, in Cliffside Park, N.J. His father, Howard, was a mechanical engineer. His mother, the former Florence McNeille, came from a family of amateur musicians and encouraged his childhood love of jazz.

He is survived by his wife, Kay; three sons, Tor, Kurt and Eric; a brother, Stephen; a sister, Susan Brodie; and two granddaughters.

In his early teenage years Mr. Lundvall cultivated a young aficionado’s tastes, collecting records and circulating the many jazz clubs on 52nd Street in Manhattan. His attempts to become a jazz musician himself (he played saxophone, trumpet and piano) did not go far, but that was no hindrance to his enthusiasm; he held a jazz salon in his family’s attic in Glen Rock, N.J., calling it Duke’s Club. Later, as a student at Bucknell University, he put on concerts, wrote about jazz in the school newspaper and hosted a weekly radio show.

After serving in the Army in the early years of the Cold War — he did counterintelligence work in Stuttgart, Germany — Mr. Lundvall talked his way into an entry-level job at Columbia Records. He remained there for more than 20 years, moving up the ranks to president of Columbia and then of Columbia’s parent company, CBS Records.

While at CBS, he re-signed Miles Davis and many others. Among his additions to the roster were the tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, whose signing in 1976 was the beginning of a twilight renaissance; Herbie Hancock, who was just branching into jazz-funk; and Willie Nelson, whose 1975 Columbia debut, “Red Headed Stranger,” became a No. 1 country album and is now considered a modern classic.

Mr. Lundvall left CBS in 1982 to start Elektra Musician, an imprint of Elektra Records, on which he released the first two albums by the singer Bobby McFerrin, along with albums by the Latin star Rubén Blades and an array of jazz acts, including the group Steps Ahead and the trumpeter Woody Shaw.

His move to EMI was contingent not only on the revival of Blue Note but also on the founding of Manhattan Records, an adult-contemporary label. Among his breakout signings to Manhattan was the pop singer-songwriter Richard Marx.

In an industry rife with egos and sharp elbows, Mr. Lundvall generated an unusual amount of good will. He served as chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America, as chairman of the Country Music Association and as governor of the New York chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He received a Grammy Trustees Award in 2011.

Last year he received a lifetime achievement award from the Jazz Foundation of America. He accepted the honor from the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, whom he had signed twice: to Columbia in the early 1980s and to Blue Note in the early 2000s.

Shortly after Mr. Lundvall was found to have Parkinson’s disease, he stepped down as president of Blue Note in 2010 and was named chairman emeritus. Last year, after several falls at his home in northern New Jersey, he moved to an assisted-living facility. True to form, he organized a jazz festival on the grounds, with proceeds going to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and a lineup featuring artists he supported over the years.

“I’m still in the music business,” he said in a phone interview shortly before the festival. “I love it. It’s like the mob: Once you’re in, you can’t get out.”


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