Obituary:Carl Jefferson

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The Independent Online
Carl Jefferson was one of the two great millionaire patrons of jazz. The other is Norman Granz, and the main difference between them was that, while Granz made his millions out of jazz and then ploughed a lot of them back, Jefferson first became a millionaire through his creation of one of most successful car dealerships in the United States and then turned his attentions to jazz.

While continuing to operate his huge Lincoln-Mercury distribution company, Jefferson first directed some of the profits into jazz when he established the Concord Jazz Festival in Concord, California, in 1969. The festival, an immediate success, has been held every year since and to accommodate it Jefferson built the Concord Pavilion, an auditorium which seats 8,500 people, in 1975. The Concord record label began in 1972 when two guitarists, Joe Pass and Herb Ellis, who appeared at the festival, suggested that Jefferson should finance a recording session for them. Twenty years later Jefferson had produced over 600 recordings which have been distributed throughout the world.

"I believe in musical purity, not manufactured music," he said. "The music we're putting out has always been there, and it always will be. It's got lasting quality. It's very sophisticated music, rather than very boring modal music." The modal reference was a dig at Miles Davis and the progressive jazz musicians, for Jefferson was a mainstream man who placed great importance on palpable melody. His greatest successes in this respect came with artists like Stan Getz, Marian McPartland, George Shearing and Mel Torm. However, he resented the "mainstream" label even though it was accurate.

"I'm not interested in trying to sell gold or platinum albums; I'm not interested in that at all because, in the first place, in order for it to be jazz, that's not going to happen. What we're going for is musical purity in the American art-form, which is jazz. I don't think we're in `bop' music at all. We are in an area that is unfortunately referred to by less professional people as `mainstream jazz'. I don't really know what that is.

"Most of our music is with acoustic instruments; it has excellent rhythmic qualities and, strangely enough, it has melody lines. To me it's only really good music. I'm a strong defender of the art, of the state of the art, and of the people that perform."

Jefferson revitalised many of the careers of artists who had otherwise grown neglected and amongst his greatest successes was his work with Rosemary Clooney, known as a pop singer during the Sixties, who blossomed into a great jazz singer through her many albums for Jefferson.

"With the exception of a few younger artists like Scott Hamilton and Dave Frishberg," Jefferson said, "most of the artists we've recorded are people who've already gained their reputations and established themselves in the music business." He was referring to great players like Al Cohn, Dave Brubeck, Bud Shank, Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow and Joe Venuti. Latterly he had been giving younger players more prominence on the label - the late Emily Remler was one, but each had to conform to Jefferson's criteria.

One of his most distinguished projects was the Maybeck Hall solo piano recital series which by the time of his death had produced more than 30 solo piano albums by some of the finest but not necessarily best-known players. Typical of Jefferson's attention to perfect detail, the Maybeck Hall is acoustically perfect and the soloists played on a Bosendorfer piano.

He spread his interests wider and produced divisions of his label devoted to classical guitar and then, through Concord Piquante, salsa recordings. His Jazz Alliance is largely built on the prodigious work of the British pianist and broadcaster Marian McPartland, who has been based in the United States since 1946.

Although he was a philanthropist he was very much a realist. He nurtured the big bands led by Bill Berry and Nat Pierce and Frankie Capp out of obscurity, but when he managed to sign Woody Herman and his band to a contract, the others were never heard from again, Concord went on to create the best of Herman's later albums.

Jefferson picked up many awards, usually more substantial than the "Man of the Year" and "Citizen of the Day" titles which Americans rush to bestow on their native rich. His records were nominated for over 40 Grammy Awards and won eight.

He had served in the army in the Second World War and in the Korean war and went on to belong to and chair innumerable committees involving social work and civic affairs, working with the then state governor Ronald Reagan.

Steve Voce

Carl Jefferson, businessman, music patron, record producer: born Alameda, California 10 December 1919; married; died St Helena, California 29 March 1995.