George Avakian

  • Post author:
  • Reading time:3 mins read

November/December 2019
George Avakian

By Marilyn Lester

George Avakian

Legendary record producer and talent scout George Mesrop Avakian, in a career spanning almost three quarters of a century, is most notable for transforming the U. S. recording industry. It was he who invented the jazz record album and who, with a passion for the music, brought countless scores of performers into the spotlight.

Born in Russia to Armenian parents, the family Avakian emigrated to the United States when George was four. He became impassioned with jazz as an adolescent and began amassing an enormous record collection as a teenager. By the time he’d matriculated at Yale University he was already well known among record company executives as a young, relentless letter writer. Avakian’s mission was to urge companies such as Decca and American Record Corporation to reissue the recordings of bankrupt labels they’d acquired, most notably OKeh and Brunswick Records. In 1940, Jack Kapp of Decca hired him to produce his first recording. The result was Chicago Jazz, a six-record set of 78-rpm discs, featuring a roster of major musicians including trumpeter Jimmy McPartland and guitarist Eddie Condon.
The set contained Avakian’s liner notes, full credits, and background information, setting the standard for jazz releases to follow.

In his third year at Yale he was tapped by Columbia records to research and assemble the company’s Hot Jazz Classics series. In the process he discovered important unreleased Armstrong works with the trumpeter’s Hot 5 and Hot 7 groups. During Army service after Yale, he produced a jazz radio program for the Office of War Information and also began writing for publications Jazz Magazine, Tempo, DownBeat, Metronome, Mademoiselle, Pic, and The New York Times.

In 1946 Avakian started a course in jazz history at New York University and began a 12-year career with Columbia Records. At Columbia he introduced the LP record format, which eventually led to his idea of the live recording. In later years, Avakian served as a producer at Warner Brothers, World Pacific, RCA Victor, and Atlantic, among other labels. Eventually he functioned as an independent producer and manager.
He was the recipient of numerous awards and is remembered for his work with a roster of music-industry giants, including Johnny Mathis, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, John Cage, Ravi Shankar, Edith Piaf, and countless more.
— Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.