George Avakian, a Russian-born Armenian jazz scholar and architect of the American music industry who produced essential recordings by Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and other stars has died at age 98, the Associated Press reported.
Avakian’s daughter, Anahid Avakian Gregg, confirmed that her father died Wednesday morning at his home in Manhattan. No further details were immediate available.
Avakian, an executive at Columbia Records and Warner Bros. among other labels, helped popularize such consumer standards as liner notes, the long-playing album and the live album.
Avakian started out as an Ivy League prodigy rediscovering old jazz recordings and became a monumental industry figure and founder of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, presenters of the Grammys. Through the artists he promoted and the breakthroughs he championed, Avakian helped shape the music we listen to and the way we listen to it, the AP wrote.
His contributions date back to the late 1930s, when he was an undergraduate at Yale and a jazz fan frustrated by the limited availability of his favorite music. He wrote to numerous companies and finally convinced Decca to let him compile “Chicago Jazz,” widely regarded as the first jazz album and among the first jazz records to include liner notes, written by Avakian.
“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,’” Avakian told JazzWax in 2010.
Avakian was soon working on new and old music, documenting and making history, and jazz’s stature was changing from popular entertainment to art. He prepared a series of reissues at Columbia that featured recordings by Armstrong, Ellington and Bessie Smith and helped launch the inclusion of alternate takes of individual songs. He produced the classic “Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy” and one of Dave Brubeck’s most popular albums, “Dave Digs Disney.” He also signed up Davis for Columbia and co-produced “Miles Ahead,” the 1957 album that began Davis’ collaborations with arranger Gil Evans and established him as among the first jazz superstars of the post-World War II era.
Avakian’s other achievements ranged from producing Bob Newhart’s Grammy-winning debut “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart” and Sonny Rollins’ comeback album “The Bridge” to managing Keith Jarrett and teaching, at Columbia University, one of the first courses on jazz.
He was born in 1919 in the Russian city of Armavir, the child of wealthy Armenians who fled from the civil war that followed the 1917 revolution.