Bruce Lundvall: Record company executive who was rejected by Blue Note as a young man but later revived its fortunes

Lundvall was responsible for signing and nurturing the careers of a list of artists that included Herbie Hancock, Dianne Reeves, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen and Norah Jones

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Bruce Lundvall revived the famous Blue Note label in the mid-1980s and turned it into a huge influence on the contemporary jazz scene during his 25 years as president. In a music career spanning more than 50 years, Lundvall "discovered, signed, promoted and guided the careers of some of the most respected artists in the world", said Neil Portnow, president of the US National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

As an executive at Columbia and Blue Note, Lundvall was responsible for signing and nurturing the careers of a list of artists that included Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, James Taylor, Bobby McFerrin, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Dianne Reeves, Richard Marx, Phoebe Snow, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen and Norah Jones. "My belief is that if you sign an individual artist, an artist that has their own sound, their own concept, and is doing something important musically, that in the end, you will win," he said in 2003.

After graduating from Bucknell University in the late 1950s, Lundvall was turned away when he applied for an entry-level job at Blue Note. But in 1984 he and producer Michael Cuscuna were head-hunted to reactivate the dormant label, which had been bought by EMI. After taking over as president in 1985, he brought back some of the label's earlier stars like Freddie Hubbard and McCoy Tyner, while also signing new artists including singers Reeves and Cassandra Wilson, and saxophonist Joe Lovano. "Bruce not only loved the music; he loved the artists themselves and revelled in their company," Cuscuna said.

Lundvall's biggest commercial success came when a woman in the label's accounting department he had never met wanted him to meet a young singer she had heard in a local cafe. A few days later, he had a nervous Jones in his office playing her demo tape. He signed her on the spot. Her multi-platinum 2002 debut album Come Away With Me won eight Grammys, including album of the year.

"I met Bruce on my 21st birthday and it was life changing," Jones said. "It would be easy to say that he gave me my career, but it goes beyond that. He guided me and helped me to make good decisions. When I was too green to make them, he told me the path to take, and when I figured out who I was as an artist he let me fly."

A self-described "failed" saxophonist, Lundvall grew up in New Jersey and frequented New York jazz clubs as a teenager where he heard bebop legends Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1960 he got a job as a marketing trainee at Columbia Records and rose up the ranks to become president of the domestic division of its parent company, CBS Records, in the mid-1970s.

Lundvall played a crucial role in getting the label to release Hancock's groundbreaking Headhunters electric jazz-fusion album, encouraged Springsteen on his breakthrough Born To Run album and in 1979 created the Havana Jam Festival that took musicians including Weather Report, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson and the CBS Jazz All-Stars to Cuba. He left Blue Note in 2010 because of failing health; he died of complications from Parkinson's disease.

SHANNON BAXTER

Bruce Lundvall, record company executive: born 13 September 1935; married Kay (three sons); died 19 May 2015.

Comments