Pioneering record producer
He made his most lasting mark as a jazz producer with Columbia Records in the 1950s. He brought Brubeck and Davis to the label, helping to transform them from artists with a loyal but limited audience to international celebrities. He signed Johnny Mathis, then an unknown jazz singer, and oversaw his emergence as a chart-topping pop star. He persuaded Louis Armstrong to record the German theater song “Mack the Knife,” an unlikely vehicle that became one of his biggest hits. And he supervised the recording of Duke Ellington’s performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, which revitalized Ellington’s career.
I interviewed him once, for a Frankie Laine project I was involved in (Avakian produced some of the material). It was a real thrill; the equivalent of interviewing, say, John Hammond or Art Satherley.
A crusty fellow, he could be