Bruce Lundvall

The jazz world, not to mention the record business as a whole, lost one of its true gentlemen and most positive role models when Bruce Lundvall died on Tuesday, May 19 at the age of 79 from complications associated with Parkinson’s disease. Famed as the man who “discovered” Norah Jones, Lundvall revived and ran Blue Note Records as its President for 26 years. Prior to that he’d been President of Columbia Records and its parent, CBS Records. In the early 1980s he also spent two years at Elektra Records, launching the now defunct Elektra Musician label.

A native New Yorker (born in Jersey) and a onetime teenage denizen of the 52nd Street jazz scene, Lundvall was a failed musician who spent a life in music. At various times in his career he served as chairman of both the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Country Music Association (Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger was released during his time at Columbia Records). He also served a term heading the New York chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. In a congenitally unkind business, notorious for its hard hearts and less than savory characters, Lundvall was a very real, very human presence. A fan of music and those who make it, he was one of the last labels heads to actually listen to music and care about musicians. He was Blue Note and he remained committed, until retiring in 2010, to being involved in the entire process of making and selling recordings and being the face of and vision behind Blue Note.

One of the first times I met Bruce, in his office at Blue Note in downtown NYC, I walked in to music blasting from a rack of gear (can’t remember the manufacturers), and there he was behind his desk, smiling from ear to ear, as joyous as a child. In excited tones, he proceeded to tell me the particulars about the bootleg we were listening to of a 1950s performance by saxophonist Sonny Rollins and trumpeter Clifford Brown. I listened while he enthused about Newk and Brownie. A label head who so loved music that he’d play a bootleg for a reporter rather than talk in cagey music business speak about his latest project or a record that was struggling in the market place? I was instantly entranced by the man. When I last saw him, at a Norah Jones show in Brooklyn, although he was obviously struggling with Parkinson’s, his smile was just as infectious and he was as warm and genuine as always. I’m positive that he drew great strength from the fact that he was the one of the few guys in the record business that people honestly liked and admired. What’s that old adage about the way you live your life? The music biz has lost a true giant. We want to extend heartfelt condolences to his wife, three sons and his extended family.

Allen Fant's picture

Very nice photo- RB.

I will miss Mr. Lundvall, especially his contribution to Blue Note Records (the best Jazz in the world!). R.I.P.