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Thursday, April 8, 2010


The Archives Center of the National Museum of American History regularly presents displays of documents, photographs, and other collection items in cases near the Archives Center’s entrance. Since April is Jazz Appreciation Month, we are showing materials related to the career of Norman Granz from our rich jazz collections, including the Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, and Schiffman Apollo Theater collections. This display may be seen from April 1-May 31, 2010. The curator is Wendy Shay, audiovisual archivist and assistant chair of the Archives Center. The display script follows. --David Haberstich

Image Record: [Ella Fitzgerald and Norman Granz at microphone : color photoprint.]

Jazz at the Philharmonic – Bringing Jazz to the World

In 1944, a young jazz enthusiast named Norman Granz organized a single concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles. That event evolved into “Jazz at the Philharmonic,” an internationally recognized program of concerts, tours, and recordings. From 1949 to1959, Granz organized over twenty-five concert tours of North America, Europe, and Asia, bringing together dozens of popular jazz musicians to play in hundreds of concerts. Included among the JATP performers were such prominent figures as Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Ray Brown, and Benny Carter. Although the performers varied from tour to tour, JATP proved to be universally popular among jazz fans world-wide.

Granz was known for taking good care of his Jazz at the Philharmonic performers. As JATP’s reputation and success grew, he was able to provide above-average pay and travel accommodations to the musicians. Granz also used JATP as a platform to fight racial discrimination. He refused to stage concerts in cities where segregation was a way of life in the 1950s and insisted that both the people on the stage and those in the audience be fully integrated.

Archival documents from several of the Archives Center’s collections attest to the significance and reach of Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic.


Granz wanted Jazz at the Philharmonic performances to feel like informal jam sessions, with the musicians playing off each other. This quality is captured on the JATP live recording albums that he released beginning in 1945. Behind the scenes, though, Granz managed everything, from the order in which the performers appeared to the pieces they played.


Under Granz’s leadership, Jazz at the Philharmonic thrived and became a major “brand” with multiple programs. In addition to arranging and promoting tours and performances, Granz produced commercial recordings of the live concerts on the record labels – Clef, Verve, and Pablo – he founded. He also personally managed the careers of several musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. The performers were well paid and the exposure they gained from participating in JATP tours enhanced their careers.


Jazz at the Philharmonic performers were constantly on the road. Between 1945 and 1959, Granz organized twenty-nine tours of the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan. As the success of JATP grew, Granz was able to pay the musicians well and ensure that they travelled in comfort. Official publicity photographs show the warm welcome JATP musicians frequently received. Snapshots taken by the performers themselves provide a more intimate glimpse of life on tour.

--Wendy Shay, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the behind the scenes glimpse. Ella is one of my favorites, and I am heartened to hear she was treated well in the business considering the time she lived in.