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Jazz producer and scholar George Avakian dead at 98

Nov 24,2017

NEW YORK - George Avakian, a Russian-born 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.

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.

Few could claim as many milestones as Avakian, who 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 innovations Avakian brought or helped bring to the recording industry are so fundamental and taken for granted today that most people under the age of 70 would find it hard to imagine there was ever a time when they didn’t exist,” DownBeat magazine declared in presenting Avakian a lifetime achievement award in 2000.

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.

Avakian, essentially retired from the music industry since the 1970s, was a breeder of race horses in recent years, notably the champion pacer President Ball. Avakian was married to the violinist Anahid Ajemian, with whom he had three children. She died on June 13, 2016, at age 92.

AP