George T. Butler Jr., Columbia Executive Greatly Influenced Jazz


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George T. Butler Jr., an influential figure in the business of jazz as an A&R man and record company executive, died April 9 at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Calif. He was 76.

Butler was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2005 but died of multiple organ failure, his sister, Jacqueline Butler Hairston, said. His overall medical condition took a turn for the worse in January after he walked out of his assisted living facility in Hayward and fell in a nearby creek bed, becoming entangled upside down in some bushes.

He spent more than 36 hours outdoors, his sister said, before police and other searchers found him. The incident made headlines in the Bay Area and marked a sad episode in the life of a man once considered one of the most influential figures in jazz.

As an A&R man for Columbia, Butler was credited with signing Wynton and Branford Marsalis and singer Harry Connick Jr. In the years he worked for Blue Note Records before moving to Columbia, he oversaw scores of albums by jazz legends including Horace Silver, Donald Byrd, Elvin Jones and Bobby Hutcherson. He also led Blue Note in a more commercial direction with fusion artists including Earl Klugh, Ronnie Laws and Bobbi Humphrey.

As he told critic Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune in 1993, his strategy of bringing to bring in young fusion jazz artists helped the mainstream catalog.

“We were selling major numbers of the young artists," Butler said. “And that increased the sales of artists like Horace Silver and Bobby Hutcherson, Stanley Turrentine, Elvin Jones."

In the late 1970s, he was hired by Bruce Lundvall, then the president of CBS Records, as Columbia's jazz artist and repertoire man. In that role, he was instrumental in signing the Marsalis brothers and Connick with the company.

Butler's influence also extended to the sartorial as he counseled his young stars to wear jackets and ties on stage.

“I wanted to get back to the dress codes that some of the bebop guys were known for . . . and it caught on," he said in the 1993 interview.

Born Sept. 2, 1931, in Charlotte, N.C., Butler attended Howard University and received a master's degree in music education from Columbia University.

He started in the music business at United Artists Records before moving on to Blue Note in 1972. After moving to Columbia, he was influential in coaxing Miles Davis out of retirement and back into the studio in 1980. He also worked with Bob James, Billy Cobham, Grover Washington Jr. and other popular artists.

He left Columbia in the mid-1990s.

In addition to his sister, Butler is survived by a daughter, Bethany Butler of New York City.

A memorial service will be held in New York City in the fall.

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