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Orrin Keepnews

Orrin Keepnews is an NEA Jazz Master

"I have been deeply involved in the jazz record world for appreciably more than a half-century, and now that they have gotten around to labeling me a "jazz master" I guess I probably can't count on ending the association any time soon.  Not that I really would want to stop: I remain quite proud of what I have at times accomplished in a varied career — which might perhaps more accurately be considered an overlapping series of careers.  I have primarily thought of myself as a producer, which to me means working with a series of artists to help combine their talents with the realities of recording, editing, promoting, and in various other ways assisting them in achieving a reasonable degree of success and recognition."

Recognized as one of the outstanding record producers in the jazz world, Orrin Keepnews co-founded Riverside Records in the early 1950s, launching or furthering the careers of several of the most notable names in jazz, beginning with such significant artists as Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery, Sonny Rollins, and Cannonball Adderley. He was long been at the forefront of producing reissues of both traditional and modern jazz recordings, and known for his informative, incisive and extensively detailed liner notes.

Graduating from Columbia University in 1943 and then serving in the Air Force for the balance of World War II, Keepnews returned to Columbia for graduate studies in 1946. Two years later, he became editor of The Record Changer magazine, which was newly owned by his former college classmate and noted jazz record collector, Bill Grauer. Beginning in 1951, Grauer and Keepnews produced a series of reissues on RCA Victor?s "Label X". The following year, the two men founded Riverside, which originally focused on reissues of traditional jazz and blues recordings. In 1954, they signed pianist Randy Weston, their first modern jazz artist and a disciple of Thelonious Monk. From that point on, the label began to focus on the burgeoning modern jazz scene, with Keepnews doing the producing. Promising new artists such as Clark Terry, Johnny Griffin, and Jimmy Heath were signed to the label, quickly making Riverside a major force among the New York-based independent labels. But at the end of 1963, Grauer died following a heart attack and Keepnews was unable to save the company from bankruptcy several months later.

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