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Orrin Keepnews, Prolific Jazz Producer and Writer, Dies at 91

Launched Riverside, Milestone and Landmark labels

Orrin Keepnews and Cannonball Adderley

Orrin Keepnews, a jazz record producer and writer best known for his work with the Riverside and Milestone record labels, died at his home in El Cerrito, Calif., March 1, a day short of his 92nd birthday. His death was confirmed by his son Peter Keepnews, a jazz journalist and editor at The New York Times. The cause of death was not divulged.

Orrin Keepnews, who received an NEA Jazz Masters lifetime achievement award in 2011, was born in The Bronx, N.Y., March 2, 1923. He earned a degree from Columbia University in 1943, did a stint in the military, and returned to college for his graduate degree in 1946. He dropped out and was working as an editor for Simon & Schuster when he began writing about jazz for The Record Changer, where he also served as an editor. In 1952 he began producing recordings for one of RCA Records’ budget labels, then, in 1953, Keepnews and former Columbia classmate Bill Grauer launched Riverside Records. At first they released reissues of earlier jazz recordings originally on Paramount Records, but in 1954 they signed pianist Randy Weston as Riverside’s first new artist. The label’s next signing was pianist Thelonious Monk, about whom Keepnews had written for The Record Changer.

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