Bruce Lundvall, the distinguished president of Blue Note Records, who played a major role in the world of jazz, died May 19 in Ridgewood, N.J. He was 79.
A statement from Blue Note said the cause of death was complications from Parkinson’s disease.
Last year in August as Lundvall battled Parkinson’s, he organized a jazz festival at his assisted-living facility in New Jersey that brought together many of his recording friends, including Nora Jones, Chucho Valdes, Renee Rosnes, Ravi Coltrane and Bill Charlap, as a benefit for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
Lundvall’s organization of the festival was a testament to his lifelong commitment to the music and his will to never give up. Shortly after his diagnosis, he stepped down as president of Blue Note in 2010 and was named chairman emeritus.
“We lost a legendary music business man who not only sought out originals but also gave them full license to follow their artistic visions. And his success over his long career proved him right, letting his artists make mighty creative music statements,” said Dan Ouellette, author of Lundvall’s authorized biography, “Bruce Lundvall: Playing By Ear” (ArtistShare, 2014).
Last year he received a lifetime achievement award from the Jazz Foundation of America. He served as chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America and as chairman of the Country Music Association (he demonstrated that it was more about good music than divided genres). He received a Grammy Trustees Award in 2011.
Bruce Gilbert Lundvall was born Sept. 13, 1935, in Cliffside Park, N.J. His father, Howard, was a mechanical engineer. His mother, Florence, coming from a family of musicians, encouraged his early interest in jazz.
Following his discharge from the U.S. Army, Lundvall began his professional music career, working in an entry-level marketing job at Columbia Records. He remained there for over 20 years as he climbed the musical business ladder to president of Columbia’s domestic division to its parent company, CBS Records. During his tenure, Columbia’s jazz roster became the largest jazz label in the business.
He was responsible for signing such artists as Weather Report, Wynton Marsalis, Dexter Gordon and Herbie Hancock and resigning Miles Davis, who was leading the fusion jazz charge. He also signed Willie Nelson in 1975.
“Bruce Lundvall was a giant among men. His great contributions and musical legacy will live on forever,” said Sandra Trim DaCosta, former director of marketing for Columbia Records. “He will be sorely missed.”
Lundvall left CBS in 1982 to start Elektra Musician, an imprint of Elektra Records, where he signed vocalist Bobby McFerrin, Latino musician and singer Ruben Blades and trumpeter Woody Shaw.
In 1984, EMI offered him the opportunity to revive Blue Note Records, the original home of Sidney Bechet (late 1930s), Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey before it was phased out in 1979. The deal also included Lundvall heading Manhattan Records, a contemporary pop label.
“The hallmark of his tenure is that he proved that you can do the right thing for the music and the musicians and still run a profitable company,” said Don Was, who succeeded Lundvall as Blue Note’s president.
He remained at the helm of Blue Note for over 30 years, bringing the label back to prosperity. The varied array of artists included vocalist McFerrin, Al Green, Amos Lee and Jones (whose successful folk-pop debut album “Come Away With Me” sold millions of copies and won eight Grammy Awards in 2002).
His ear for promising young musicians sparked him to sign such jazz artists as Jason Moran, Greg Osby, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Terence Blanchard, and style-setting vocalists like Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves and Kurt Elling.
“Bruce was one of my mentors early on and as my career progressed, we remained friends,” said Darryl Tookes, singer, musician, arranger and educator. “His advice to me during my early years in the business was to stay hip and don’t let them take your soul.”
Throughout his passionate career, Lundvall followed his words to his then-young friend. He was an impeccable dresser, always accessible and innately hip, and he always respected the integrity of his artists and their music.
He is survived by his wife, Kay; three sons, Tor, Kurt and Eric; a brother, Stephen; a sister, Susan Brodie; and two granddaughters.
A private family service will be followed by a forthcoming public service. Details will be announced shortly.