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Gene Norman, Music Producer With an Ear for Jazz, Dies at 93 – The New York Times

Gene Norman, Music Producer With an Ear for Jazz, Dies at 93 – The New York Times


Gene Norman, Music Producer With an Ear for Jazz, Dies at 93

NOV. 13, 2015
Gene Norman, around 1950, with Kitty Kallen, the big band singer, tying his necktie. Gene Lester/Getty Images 

Gene Norman, a music promoter, nightclub owner and record producer who helped bring some of the most renowned jazz artists of midcentury to the West Coast and, through his independent record label, to the world, died on Nov. 2 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 93.

His son, Neil, confirmed the death.

Mr. Norman, who began his professional life as a disc jockey and was for more than half a century an influential presence on the American jazz scene, was perhaps best known for founding the label GNP Crescendo, begun in 1954 and still in business. (Its initials stand for “Gene Norman Presents”; Crescendo was the name of the nightclub Mr. Norman opened in Los Angeles the same year.)

Artists recorded by GNP over the years include Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Max Roach, George Shearing and Art Tatum, as well as the bluesmen Jack Dupree and Memphis Slim; the garage-rock band the Seeds; Bing Crosby, Dick Dale and Tito Puente; the Creole accordionist Queen Ida, who won a Grammy Award for her 1982 recording on the label, “Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Zydeco Band on Tour”; and even Orson Welles, who released a spoken-word album, “I Know What It Is to Be Young (But You Don’t Know What It Is to Be Old).”

More recently, GNP has also been known for releasing television and motion picture soundtracks, with a particular emphasis on science fiction.

Mr. Norman was born Eugene Nabatoff in Brooklyn on Jan. 30, 1922, and as a youth became enthralled by visits to New York’s jazz clubs. After studying at the University of Michigan, he graduated at 18 from the University of Wisconsin.

Changing his surname at the start of his broadcasting career, he worked as a disc jockey in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles in the 1940s.

There he plied his trade at a series of radio stations, among them KLAC and KFWB, giving particular airplay to jazz. He began producing live concerts on local stages — including those of the Shrine Auditorium and the Hollywood Bowl — featuring artists like Benny Goodman, Erroll Garner and Peggy Lee. He also hosted jazz programs on local television.

At the Crescendo, which he opened on the Sunset Strip, Mr. Norman presented musicians including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Johnny Mathis and Herb Alpert. He also booked some of the era’s foremost comedians, among them Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles and Woody Allen. Mr. Norman sold the club in the 1960s.

Mr. Norman’s wife, June Bright, a fashion model and actress, died in 1975. Besides his son, Neil, the current president of GNP Crescendo, his survivors include a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.

As passionate as Mr. Norman was about jazz, he had a good ear for other genres, as his catalog makes plain. Sometimes he had a good ear in spite of himself, as when he signed an easy listening-country-polka ensemble called the Mom and Dads on the strength of the fact that they had sold tens of thousands of records for a Canadian label.

“They were this group from Spokane, Wash., who played very, very square versions of standards,” Neil Norman told Variety last year. “They made Lawrence Welk look like Pink Floyd.”

He continued: “My father took them on without even hearing them. When he finally listened to their records, he said, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ But they sold millions for us.”


Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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